PHOENIX- Central High School is located at 4525 Central Ave near downtown Phoenix and has 2,361 students. There are 253 students enrolled in the English as a Second Language program. It is home to one of the largest ESL programs in the state employing 11 teachers.
However, the real story about the ESL program at Central isn’t found in the numbers, instead the story is in the students.
A majority of the ESL students are refugees fleeing their home countries in search of a better life for them and their families in America. Phoenix is one of approximately 15 cities with a United Nations refugee hub and the state of Arizona is the sixth largest recipient of refugees in America according to the United Nations refugee agency. The students come from all over the world and are typically fluent in more than one language. They come from the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Burma just to name a few countries.
Susie Serafin is an ESL teacher in what is called pre-emergent and emergent conversation and reading. What that means is that she deals with students who are more recent learners of English and still need to develop language building blocks before moving on to Basic English conversation, vocabulary, writing, and grammar.
“We teach them the grammar, we teach them how to write, we teach them how to analyze the language in ways that some American children aren’t taught.” Serafin said.
Abdullah Ayazi is an Afghan Immigrant who came to Phoenix on May 19, 2015, a date that he proudly remembers. When he was 15 he left Afghanistan alone to go to India, he then went from India to Thailand, Thailand to Malaysia, and then Malaysia to the United States. He says he currently knows five languages and is working on learning spanish. Prior to moving to America he said he didn’t know a word of English. In his first year as a high school student he played soccer for Alhambra high before transferring to Central and playing there.
“First when I came it was very difficult for me because I didn’t know English, I didn’t know how to communicate with the others. But once I started playing soccer I made a lot of friends and they helped me, I learned a lot from them. About the casual american culture, basically we worked together. ” Ayazi said.
Abdullah is currently in the Achieving a College Education(ACE) program which is intended to give students a pathway from high school, to community college, to a four-year institution. This means that by the time he graduates from Central he will have 24 units of college credit, or approximately one full-time year of college.
“Whatever I hear from others I used to translate to my own language, and then basically for five months i used to write 20 vocabulary words every night, put them on my wall and then translate them into my own language. And then I would go out and use the word in a sentence and memorize the spelling and the pronunciation. It was difficult but it helped me a lot.” Ayazi said.
Cosmos Kwete is a 6 foot 3 inch, 200 pound athlete originally from the Congo who knows six languages, although he admits his french is fading. He spent a good amount of his life in Zimbabwe where he was selected for the U-17 level of rugby but never ended up playing due to a lack of paperwork. In football he plays defensive end and was 5th in 6A with 12 sacks during the regular season earning him all-region first team. His true love is rugby but he’s happy playing football too.
“I like rugby, I didn’t like soccer. I feel like it wasn’t manly...Football helps you interact with more people. I’ve made more friends, get to know more people. You feel more comfortable at the school by making friends, talking to them, getting to know more about their culture and other stuff.” Cosmos said
Cosmos is involved in clubs like the Black Student Union which teaches him about the history of African-Americans in America. He has a twin brother Eloi who also plays football at Central and was involved in international rugby with Zimbabwe like his brother. Eloi has been in touch with the University of Hawaii and both of the brothers have been selected to play for USA Rugby. The brothers also both have greater than a 3.0.
After the last student left her classroom for the time-being Mrs.Serafin remarked “The future of America.”
She wasn’t kidding either. And neither are these students.