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Photo Apr 11, 3 53 37 PM

Rita tells her story while I stand by. Flynn artist Susan Palmer and Evelyn Glennie, along with bassists who comprised the rest of the trio. We participated through generosity of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts educational program and the Community Engagement Lab.

A little over a week ago, two of my students took to the stage of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.

I needed to be there as a crutch. I did very little. Other than stand there. These young women are very strong. And very brave.

They didn’t quite understand why we would want them to tell their stories in Nepali and Somali.

They knew we wouldn’t understand.

But that was kind of the point.

Dame Evelyn Glennie, deaf since age 12, worked with my students on finding a new way of listening. I wrote about their work with her (on a day that I, unfortunately was out of town) in the post What happens when I’m gone…

They were all so brave. They all took a trip outside their comfort zones.

If you look at the videos attached to the above post, you will see body language that SCREAMS discomfort. They were with a substitute teacher who they knew, but they didn’t really know. They were in a new space. New learning. But there was nothing to hang their hat on. No place to feel really comfortable.

And this is what is really so hard with ELL students with interrupted schooling. They need a place that feels like home, otherwise it’s all so terrifying that there is no room left in their brains for learning.

It’s why we can’t just continue with business as usual as we try to move these square pegs into the round holes of rigor and proficiency-based learning and Common Core State Standards and, well, just life. We need to make sure that these students, who are the most fragile of all, are well considered as we work to make education better. They need connections. And sometimes they need school to be much more than school.

Yesterday I made a doctor’s appointment for one of my students. I’ve taken them to the hospital, to funerals, to court. I’ve sat and held their hands. I’ve doled out tough love and sometimes just a quiet presence. I’ve bought phone repair kits and purses and jackets for them because they had no credit card to order online.

They need more than just the normal approach to keep them engaged. To keep them at all. Their lives are so much more difficult than most. They face a lot of things alone that I do for and with my own children, bringing my cultural capital with me to fend off the enemy.

It’s a lot to do when you are a teen or twenty-something who doesn’t speak the language with absolute fluency. My students don’t have cultural capital to keep the fears at bay. No parent to jump in and help them fight their battles. My students often are taking care of their parents, who more often than not speak little to no English, or are here on their own, trying to go it alone.

We can’t leave these students behind. But “business as usual” does just that.

Please listen to their stories.

They are truly amazing. Even if you don’t understand them.

Soon, I’ll be posting video from the actual show, where these stories, their translations and the improvised music that was created to accompany them, will be available.

And thanks for listening.

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