Oakland International High School Student Reports on Her 5th Year Student Continuing Education Experience
By Sailaja Suresh, Principal of Oakland International High School and
Hel Say, Student, 5th Year Student, Oakland International High School
Hel Say is a Karen refugee from Burma, one of several hundred who began arriving in the United States about seven years ago. Her family was one of many forced into exile by the military junta from their homes in the hills of Myanmar. Most of our refugee students were born and raised in Thai camps, but a few of the older students remember the journey through the jungles from their homes to safety on the other side of the Thai border. Our school has a number of refugees from Burma. These students speak Karen, Karenni, or Chin as their native language. As you can imagine, dictionaries for these languages are hard to come by.
Hel Say arrived at Oakland International High School (OIHS) as a 9th grader who spoke no English. She didn’t know the English alphabet, she had one photo-copied dictionary to help her and only a few other students in her classes who spoke her language. She worked incredibly hard, but when it comes to learning a new language, it often takes at least five years to achieve mastery.
Our continuing education program allows Hel Say the opportunity to perfect her English with another year of study with us, while also affording her the time and support to begin enrolling in community college. She is an amazing role model to our younger students–she is always helpful and friendly to students from every country, she helps coach our girls soccer team, and she often serves as a translator for our newer students and their families. It’s a real pleasure to have her back on campus this year and to continue to be able to help her meet her goals.
By Hel Say, Student, 5th Year Student, OIHS
How would feel if you were a 5th year senior student? I am a “5th year” senior student at OIHS. Younger students see you and ask you why you come back to school? They ask you, what are you doing in your old school? Sometimes it’s hard, and I feel shy because I am a 5th year Senior.
But I still need to pass English CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam), so I now have a special class that helps me finish high school and plan for college. I always worry that I am not going to pass the CAHSEE, but our school counselor and 5th Year Senior Coordinator, Ms. Elizabeth Paniagua, tells us to keep working hard. She is kind, helpful to our school, and always wants to see students succeed in their lives.
As a 5th Year Senior, we set our goals for each week and think about what we will do after 5 or 10 years. If we have some trouble to get a job or apply for scholarships, she is always happy to help. In her class we talk about how the College classes are. If we having a hard time in class, we all talk as a family and help each other to improve our grades. The class is also teaching us that even when we get our high school diploma, our goals are not finished yet. We still have so many things to do after high school: go to college, get a job, help our family, help our community and be a good example in our school so that younger students will know how to act during class also out of class.
I bet I got the best teacher at OIHS. I have learned a lot about life, like to be positive, Polite, Punctual and how to be productive. If we didn’t have our 5th year program, I believe it would be really hard for me—because I am going to college right now at the same time that I am going to high school. My advisor Ms. Elizabeth is supporting us to continue to go to school until we get a Master’s degree. Having a person who is always smiling and encouraging you to keep working hard is the best present for student like us. I respect her a lot and I want to make her proud, so I will always work hard until I reach my goals.