School Dubbed 'Refugee High' For Opening Its Doors To Immigrants

by
Alice Salles
Thanks to an English teacher, a school that prides itself on its acceptance of refugees is seeing its graduation rates and academic scores soar.

Student in hijab talks and laughs with another student. Chicago's Roger C. Sullivan High School has been dubbed "Refugee High," and for a good reason.

Once known only for violence on campus, the school is seeing a spike in attendance and graduation rates all because the school has the highest number of resettlement students of all local high schools.

According to Chicago Magazine's editor, Elly Fishman, the school accepts students from a series of places, such as Rwanda, Myanmar, and Syria. One of these kids, a Rohingya boy, says that he and his family fled Myanmar for Bangladesh where both his father and grandfather were killed. Another child from Syria says that while she misses the smell of jasmine, she surely doesn't miss the sound of bombs.

Read More: New App Lets User 'Walk A Mile In A Refugee's Shoes'

The decision to change how the school was organized came in 2013, when Principal Chad Adams took over.

The school at the time, he told Fishman, “was a place you wouldn’t want to send your kids.”

“There was lots of talk that the school would either be turned around or shut down,” he added.

Choosing to turn it around, Adams started working with five resettlement programs, making teacher Sarah Quintenz the head of the school's English Language Learners (ELL) program and expanding it. In no time, the school's student body of 641 pupils had grown to include children from 38 different countries. Now, immigrants make up 45 percent of the student population.

But what really helped Sullivan High become a better school wasn't only the shift toward accepting more refugees, Fishman explained in her piece. Instead, it was Quintenz's dedication that really made a difference.

At her class, you can see students feel at home.

“It’s more important that my students feel safe, happy, and confident than it is for them to learn specific grammar structures,” she told Fishman. “I just want my kids to feel like they are a part of this country. This is their country now.”

Being the daughter of a Navy combat medic and an Illinois Air National Guard colonel, Quintenz said she knows how hard it is to start over. To ensure her students trust her and are comfortable enough to actually learn with her, Quintenz said she prefers to “break down the wall between teacher and student,” as Fishman pointed out. Instead of a dull class, these students are able to learn in a loose atmosphere where they aren't brought down if they give the wrong answer.

With 75 percent of young refugees experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, the fact Quintenz has cultivated an environment where these kids feel safe makes their journey a much more pleasant and productive one.

As President Donald Trump's policies make it even more difficult for people like these students to relocate to America, it's heartbreaking to think that many will continue to suffer a great deal as they wait in limbo, unsure of how they'll continue their education and make a better life for themselves elsewhere.

Perhaps, reporting on more stories like this will show the administration that there's nothing to fear when it comes to letting refugees make the United States their home.

Read More: Family Of Refugees Wants To Achieve 'Peace By Chocolate'
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