Student Corner – The Value of After-School Programs for Immigrant Teens

Posted on June 21, 2012
by FeliciaOctocog

This is the speech that one of our students gave at our Great Expecations fundraiser on June 5, 2012.

This compelling speech describes the challenges immigrant youth face when they come to the US as teenagers and how after-school academic programs provide needed supports and social capital. Johanna graduated Salem High School in 2010, North Shore Community College in 2012 and will be entering Northeastern University in September, 2012 as a transfer student with generous scholarships from the Steven Phillips Scholarship and Northeastern University.

Good Evening everyone, my name is Johanna Rodriguez. On May 24th I graduated from North Shore Community College, with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. I will be attending Northeastern University in the fall to study Social Work. But what I’m here to talk about is my experience as a high school student when I first started coming to Salem CyberSpace and how they have helped me.

I immigrated to the U.S. in the summer of 2006, with my mother and brother when I was 13 years old. I had just graduated from 8th grade back in the Dominican Republic, so I was here to start high school. My mother sent me to the U.S. to study hard so that I could eventually go to college. I moved in with my aunt because my mother had to go back to my native country with my brother. I was here without my immediate family. I did not know my aunt, I mean I knew her name, and I knew my grandfather always compared me to her, but I had never had a relationship with her. But my aunt’s family welcomed me and treated me as a daughter.  I still live with them today and her daughter Isabel sees me as her big sister.

As soon as my mother went back to the Dominican Republic I started high school. I knew I was going to miss her but in my heart I knew it was the best for me. Starting high school was kind of hard because I only knew Basic English, which I had learned back in my country. However, the lack of English never stopped me from learning. I would constantly seek out my teachers after school for help and to show them that I had an interest in learning the material. I met a lot of awesome teachers in high school who knew my potential and were always pushing me to do better like my ESL teacher Ms. Zatorre . My guidance counselor Ms. Luz was always keeping in touch with me to see how I was doing in classes.

My only contemporary friend was my cousin Elisa. She was the one who introduced me to Salem CyberSpace. At CyberSpace I met Linda Saris and Kelly Quinn who until this day have been so helpful. With Kelly I started a journal program, which helped me with my written English. Kelly and I (who I always called Ms. Quinn) would swap journals. I would write to her in English and she would respond to me in Spanish, since she was majoring in Spanish at Salem State University.

This was a program that helped me gain confidence in myself and trust in new people. I did not communicate so well with people when I came to this country. I remember that I did not talk to Kelly for 6 months until she started the journal program with me. I always had problems trusting people and letting them get to know me. Ms.Quinn was very patient with me. She never gave up and although I would come with a different attitude everyday she learned from me as much as I learned from her.

With Linda I did an ELL street program which helped me with my spoken English and vocabulary. Linda came up with many fun ideas to challenge my knowledge and give me courage to speak in public. For example, we did a mock trial, in which I was a prosecutor. This mock trial was in a real superior court with a real judge. The mock trial was about date violence.  I started the program knowing very little English and having no confidence in speaking and here I was a year later in court arguing before a judge. During high school I received tutoring and received help with my homework from Robin Frans. She helped me write papers and helped me with my grammar. Also, she helped me to understand assignments; she knew how to explain things better than the teachers.

Ron was my SAT’s and Accuplacer test tutor. He helped me with the SAT every Saturday for at least 2 months and he did the same for the Accuplacer test at NSCC. When I started at NSCC I began taking developmental courses. It only took me one semester to finish my developmental courses and move on to college level courses. I started taking five classes a semester and due to that I graduated in exactly 2 years.

The college success program started with Ms.Quinn, but then it moved on to Jesenia since Kelly had graduated with her bachelor’s and master’s in social work from Salem State University. Jesenia and Monique helped me apply to different colleges. I was only going to apply to one college, but ended up applying to 4 great schools. Also, Jesenia and Monique checked on me every week for the two years I was at NSCC. They were always making sure I was doing well in my classes and seeking out teachers if I needed help. Honestly, I would have never done so much by myself. I’m very thankful for being part of Salem CyberSpace and I encourage all students from Salem to take advantage of this organization.

Thank you for your time and have a great night.