After a few months in our new country, my mama enrolled me in a preschool / pre-k school. I didn’t speak or understand any English, having been at home with my mama and abuelita (little grandma), who only spoke Spanish along with the rest of our family, our friends, our neighbors and our city.
The school in my new town was an old home built in a poor Victorian design with a peaked roof line, across the street from a large park. It had a fence that encircled the entire yard from the sidewalk to the backyard behind the play area. You had to open a tall gate (well for a four-year old it was a tall gate) to enter the yard then climb up some steep steps to the small landing and wait at the front door for one of the teachers to open it for you.
I would stay as long as I could in the car, crying and begging. “Mama por favor no quiero ir, por favor mami!” (Please mom, I don’t want to go, please!) My mama would cry too. “I don’t want to leave you but I have to.” She knew I wasn’t learning English staying at home with abuelita and I needed to get ready for kindergarten. I would finally climb out of the car, slowly close the door and open that gate. I remember it so vividly. I would climb those stairs and wait. As soon as the door opened, my mom would drive off. Those feelings! They rush right back to me – sad, terrified, lonely, and anger.
So when you get a newcomer EL student, please remember that even though you are genuinely excited to have a new student with a different language, they may be feeling completely different. Just so you know I didn’t stay at this school very long. And although it was a short and miserable experience, I am very, very glad that I had it.