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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Welcome to Refugee High

Hajar Assaf (middle) walks down a school hall with two fellow Syrian refugees. Photo: Alyssa Schukar/Chicago Magazine

Chicago’s Sullivan High has raised its enrollment and test scores by welcoming immigrants and refugees, reports Elly Fishman for Chicago Magazine.

Forty-five percent of the school’s 641 students are immigrants: 89 refugees — many of them Syrian — arrived in 2016-17. Of 35 languages spoken by Sullivan students, the third most common,  after English and Spanish, is Swahili.

Sarah Quintenz teaches English to students who are learning the language.

Quintenz’s class looks like a junior United Nations. The front row is occupied by a quartet of girls from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, wearing hijabs, Muslim headscarfs. Today something has them laughing. “Hey, Syria,” Quintenz snaps, using shorthand to address the four, “you’re being rude.” In the back sit a group of boys from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. Among the five of them, they speak Swahili, Kinyarwanda, French, and Kirundi, and most conversations—soccer is a favorite topic—move seamlessly from one language to another. Across the room, beneath the windows, a cluster of Malaysian, Burmese, and Congolese boys hover over their phones, playing video pool.

My mother, the daughter of Russian immigrants, was graduated from Sullivan High in 1944.

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