A Day in the Life | EDUBOSTON

A Day in the Life

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A day in the life of a typical English Language Learner at a U.S. private high school may be quite different from what you would imagine. From the pace of the daily schedule, to using technology in the classroom, or even encountering socially awkward moments, these international students face a myriad of challenges. To better maneuver through these scenarios, it helps to recognize them, and to understand their origins and levels of importance.

Sally Yu (a fictitious name, representing a compilation of real ELL students) gets up at 5:45am. She learned during her first days at her homestay that, if she wanted first dibs in the shared bathroom, she needed to wake up before her fellow student homestay mate. So, she typically is done in the washroom by 6:10. She then goes downstairs to the kitchen and has a bowl of cereal. Her favorites are Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms, both of which her homestay mom keeps stocked for Sally, as well as the rest of the household. The host mom and host dad also have their own 11 year old daughter, Jessie, plus the other student, Brenda. Brenda and Sally are both in 9th grade at a private Catholic middle/high school in New England.

When Sally gets to the kitchen, either the host mom or dad is typically there. More often than not, they also encourage the kids to have a piece of fruit as part of their breakfast. About once a week, they even treat everyone to omelets and hash browns – everyone’s favorite in this home!

At 7am each morning, the host mom drives Sally and Brenda to their school. With traffic, the girls always make it there by 7:30 at the latest. They’re required to be in their homeroom class by 7:40am. All early arrival students at this school are to report to the school library, where there is already an adult there to supervise them.

During homeroom, Sally often talks with classmate Christine, especially as Christine is in Sally’s Chemistry and English classes. On this day, they make sure they both did their homework for those classes. Then, the class needs to listen to a student speaking over the school-wide speaker system. The girl’s voice is reading a quote from the Bible. She then briefly explains how people can use these words from the Bible to try to live a helpful and positive life. Then, she says in a strong voice, “Now please stand and face the flag, for the Pledge of Allegiance.” She reads the Pledge of Allegiance, knowing that the whole school is reciting the same words at the same time.

Afterwards, she reminds everyone to make it a great day. Right after this, the bell rings.

Students at this school have 5 minutes in between classes, to get to their next class. They may need to visit a restroom at this time, or perhaps get a book from their hallway locker. If a student is late, she or he could face the penalty of an after-school detention. When a detention occurs, the student’s family is notified. There, of course, are many worse offenses that could also result in a student detention.

At this school, there are 7 different 45-minute classes during the day. There are also 2 separately scheduled lunches, each lasting 30 minutes. In the school cafeteria, students see posters on the wall, showing fruits and vegetables in vibrant colors. This is a strong reminder that they may purchase some fruit, or maybe a salad, instead of opting for one of the hot meal options. On this day, Sally brought a full lunch from home. She was eager to enjoy her very American peanut butter and jelly sandwich! She also had an apple and some raisins. As usual, she sat at a large table in the cafeteria, filled with 8 other 9th grade girls.

Sally noticed one girl at her table who she had not seen before. Sally happened this day to be sitting next to Brenda, even though they often were at different tables from each other. Brenda said something to Sally in Mandarin. Then, the whole table heard a girl say loudly, “People should only talk American here. We’re not in Asia!” Brenda and Sally looked at each other in disbelief. Before they could really react, though, another girl at the table gave a loud answer. “Hey, that is NOT cool! Yeah, you’re my cousin and you’re here today as a guest student. But you need to have respect. At this school, we all get along.” The cousin quickly said she was sorry. Sally’s classmate, though, didn’t let this incident end there. She told her cousin that the apology needed to be made directly to Sally and Brenda. The cousin got up, walked over to Sally and Brenda, and meekly said, “I’m real sorry.” Sally and Brenda said it was okay, but then Sally decided she needed to say something more. “Um, I hope you know that there isn’t a language called American. You speak English. People in the United States speak lots of languages. That’s something I think is really special.” The other girl said she understood and she apologized again and, this time, Sally really believed her.

After school, Sally went to the school library, where she usually studied with some other students, until the kids’ rides came for them. She opened  her IPad - as this school required all students to have one – and looked on the student portal. She saw that there were 4 different homework assignments due the following day. “Wow, I totally forgot about that English class worksheet,” she thought to herself. She took the worksheet out of her book bag and with a few quick swipes of her pointer finger on the IPad screen, she selected the English course online textbook. Now she could begin her homework.

Later, while everyone was enjoying a roast beef dinner in the homestay family dining room, the homestay dad asked Brenda and Sally if anything new or exciting had happened at school. Brenda right away said, “Well, we..um helped educate a racist kid.” The dad gave her an incredulous look. Sally then explained what had occurred in the lunchroom. The homestay mom said, “Wow, Sally! That was a great thing you explained to this kid.” The dad then asked them, “Has something like this happened before?” Brenda answered that there had been a couple of times when some other kids seemed to be laughing at her or other kids who were talking in a different language. “Oh, I’m so sorry! You girls should’ve told us this before,” the dad said. Brenda said, “It’s okay. We know kids sometimes say stupid things.”

After dinner, Jessie asked Sally and Brenda if they could maybe all play monopoly. Sally said, “I wish! Brenda and I have way too much homework!” Then, all three girls went to their rooms and began another evening of working on their homework assignments.   

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