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Success a student at a time

Reid Williams

Editor’s Note: Each Tuesday through the end of the school year, the Summit Daily News will present a story about the challenges and successes of the English as a Second Language program and diversity in the Summit School District and surrounding community.

FARMER’S KORNER – The English as a Second Language (ESL) program in Summit Schools is gathering data, a use of which will be to better track students’ achievement in acquiring the new tongue.

But a look at some of the system’s graduating students reveals success that goes beyond numbers.

A sample of four Summit High seniors: Hsiang-Ling “Megan” Chen, a first-year student from Taiwan; Oksana Davtyan, a senior transfer from the former Soviet republic of Georgia; Guillermo Dorantes, a Mexican-American in the U.S. since age 14; and Alexdiana Quijada, the first from her El Salvadoran family to graduate and attend college.

They are budding bilinguals. Some have won scholarships and they all have big plans in common.

Chen studied writing and reading English for five years, alongside Taiwanese and Chinese before leaving the Asian island to live with her cousins. She’s not sure in which country she’ll go to college, but she will. “I want to be a lawyer,” Chen said. “They make a lot of money.”

Davtyan is equally undecided, but she said she’ll be taking college English classes next year while she makes up her mind. Despite never before studying English, the Russian-speaker is learning quickly in her first year and explored her interest in journalism by writing for the high school’s student newspaper.

Dorantes grew up speaking Spanish with his mother and father. His father was an American FBI agent. So when he moved to California at age 10, English was a challenge.

Moving back to Mexico for two years didn’t help, either, Dorantes said. It didn’t stop him from earning scholarships to attend Colorado Mountain College and study business next year.

Cartoons, Quijada said, deserve some credit for her English-learning. She holds a part-time job, baby-sits her three siblings and still found enough time to win two scholarships. She likes to help people – she volunteers helping first-year ESL students like Davtyan and Chen – and she wants to get a degree in psychology.

The thing they all seem to have in common is confidence and determination to not let language be a barrier.

“I was in ESL in ninth grade,” Dorantes said. “I asked them not to put me in (ESL) in 10th, I thought I’d give it a shot. I took it for half the first semester (my) junior year, and then that was it. It was hard, but I’m confident in myself.”

The Spanish-speakers said there were some people who made fun of their lingual difficulties. They had mixed reactions. Dorantes said many more people helped and corrected his speech; many want him to teach them Spanish.

Quijada said at first even teachers made fun of her English. She felt stuck in her classes and feared she wouldn’t make it. “But I made up my mind I was going to do it, and I got good grades,” she said.

Davtyan and Chen are a double-minority, but the pair said they succeed by putting aside their fears. With only their families nearby to speak their respective languages, the students have no choice but to speak English with teachers and classmates. Davtyan said a shy person has a difficult time and, “people could be talking about you, but you don’t know. You have to ask questions.”

“And you have to understand the system,” Chen said. “School is very different than it is in Taiwan. The rules, the schedule – so many things are different.”

Success is the result of many other factors, the students said. The teachers at Summit High are very helpful – sometimes they push just enough, but they also can go too easy, the four debated. “My mom pushed me, too,” Dorantes added. The soccer player said he benefited from American friends, as well, and he urged other ESL students to look outside their circle of Spanish-speaking friends.

Quijada doesn’t have many American friends, but her friends do practice English with each other. “It does help, because you’re not so afraid to make a mistake,” she said. “Take it as a challenge.”

Who knows, maybe they’ll learn even more languages, the four said. Quijada likes the way French sounds. German could be good for business, Dorantes said. Davtyan thinks Spanish could be next for her.

“I stopped ESL in ninth grade and I feel confident about college,” Quijada said. “There are things I don’t understand sometimes, sure – but that happens in Spanish, too.”


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