top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

‘Refugee High’ copes with Afghans

Omar, who had little schooling in rural Afghanistan, is learning English at Chicago’s Sullivan High School. Photo: Taylor Glascock/WBEZ

My mother’s old high school in Chicago (class of ’44), Sullivan High, has become “Refugee” High School, reports Elly Fishman for WBEZ. An influx of Afghan students — some of whom have very little schooling in any language — poses educational and cultural challenges.

Social worker Josh Zepeda specializes in helping immigrant students, who make up a majority of Sullivan’s enrollees.

 The rapid influx of teenagers who speak little to no English, have endured severe trauma and have fled their homes with nearly nothing has been jarring. And that’s for a school which, in the past, has welcomed waves of teenagers fleeing from Syria, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By June, administrators predicted, one in seven students at Sullivan will be an Afghan refugee.

The Afghan refugees come from a variety of ethnic groups, speak different languages and practice different traditions, writes Fishman. Some from rural areas, others from cities.

Omar, the first to enroll, worked as a tailor before fleeing the country alone.

Aziz comes from an upper-middle-class family, but he and his brother were separated from their parents and sibling in the chaos at Kabul airport. The rest of the family didn’t make it out, and is now in hiding from the Taliban. He and his brother survive with help from resettlement agencies and his new job at Taco Bell.

Annmarie Handley teaches a class of 30 English Language Learners. At the start of the year she had eight students, four from Mexico and Central America.

Though learning English grammar is new for Omar, he’s had some exposure to written Pashto. Not every student in Handley’s class is in such a position. Sitting across from Omar are three hijabi. They are soft-spoken and spend much of the class huddled together puzzling their way through the lesson. The young women are among a group of around ten Afghan refugees who came to Sullivan unable to read or write, including in Arabic.

In the fall, Sullivan High expects Ukrainian refugees to add to the mix.

Sixty-two Afghan refugee students enrolled in Las Cruces, New Mexico schools for spring semester, reports Miranda Cyr. A pre-k teacher from Iran is helping with the transition.

I guess refugees go where the resettlement agencies put them.

11 views0 comments


bottom of page