Walk past Roosevelt High School on 28th Avenue South and you can’t miss the fact that the students entering the building are a diverse bunch; flowing head scarves and blue jeans appear in roughly equal numbers and groups of students chat in a variety of languages.
What you may not notice is a small green sign at the south end of the building that reads, “Wellstone International High School.” Since 2008, this “Newcomer Center” for students with limited English language and literacy skills has been located on the third floor of Roosevelt, blending in almost seamlessly with the general population of Roosevelt High School. (Prior to moving to its present location, Wellstone International High School was located at the Lehmann Center with other Minneapolis School District programs.)
Students at Wellstone come from 20 different countries, Vietnam, Ecuador, Somalia, Liberia, Ethiopia and Mexico among them. Many came to the U.S. with their families, others joined family already living in Minnesota, escaping the poverty and violence in their home countries. All are working hard to learn English and other subjects, and many hope to continue their schooling at colleges in Minnesota or other states.
“Wellstone and Roosevelt students really get along well together,” comments Jeff Carlson, an associate educator at the Wellstone School. “There are so many different cultures here, there’s nobody who gets singled out.”
Messay, from Ethiopia and in Minnesota for only a year, says that she has met lots of new people at the Wellstone School. “The school is multicultural and full of other immigrants and staff who have helped me learn what I have to do to succeed in the United States,” she says over lunch in the cafeteria at Roosevelt. She graduates this June and hopes to study biology and economics at the University of Minnesota in Duluth and to eventually return to Ethiopia to help people there.
Hanad is from Somalia, though he grew up in Kenya. He came to Minnesota to join his sister. “At Wellstone there are people from many different countries who are hard workers and successful students,” says Hanad. “In bigger schools there are sometimes problems among students, but there is no violence among Wellstone students because everybody knows each other. It is a very peaceful school with great teachers and advisers.” He plans to attend St. Paul Technical College after he graduates this year and wants to study dentistry.
Wellstone International High School has 140 students, eight teachers and six support staff, all of them committed to helping young immigrants make their way in their new country. Many Wellstone staff members are fluent in more than one language and often speak a language spoken by their students. The school offers accelerated English language classes and a basic high school curriculum. Content classes are taught in English.
At the end of the school year, Wellstone graduates from the past two years come back to tell current students what to expect at college as a way to help the new graduates begin to plan their futures. Unfortunately, not all of them will get the chance to follow their dreams. Some of the students are undocumented, though staff member Jeff Carlson stresses that staff don’t know who has documents and who doesn’t. Students without documents are not eligible for financial aid though they may be among the top students in their class. Legislation granting undocumented students resident tuition ( the Dream Act) has been debated in the Minnesota Legislature several times but is opposed by Governor Pawlenty.
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