One student told me that I reminded her of her 99-year-old grandmother. Another emailed me her lovely photos of flowers and trees because she knew I am homebound during the pandemic.
They are typical of the international students whose English I’ve helped develop the past 16 years at the study center of Great Neck South High School. Over the years, I have interacted with students from many nations whose families moved to Great Neck because of its top-notch school system. The large classroom in which I work is like an educational United Nations, with teachers of English, math, social studies and the sciences seated at different tables or computer stations.
Our students, both local and international, get the devotion of teachers whose experience covers hundreds of years. Students I’ve worked with have come from Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Peru, China, Taiwan, Australia, Russia, India, Pakistan, Australia, Moravia, Greece, Albania, Israel, Guatemala, England and other nations. They learn from us, but we also learn from them.
Our English as a New Language (ENL) program hosts a luncheon every year in which students prepare and serve to teachers and other students foods from their birth nations. The school hosts an evening highlighting their artistic and athletic skills. Most important, in the study center, we expose these students to the nuances of our language, such as idioms and allusions, which make English live. We also try to read, in English, of course, stories that our students can easily relate to, through connections with characters, settings and situations. We discuss their local experiences. We want these youngsters to know how much we care about them. Many had hand-picked this school system, which occasionally take them on Long Island field trips to places such as the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.
Newer international students get help from teachers as well as students from their homelands who already are here. Native-born English speakers also help them. At times during the school year, parents of all our students are invited to join us hear about the education their children are experiencing and have a fun evening put together by these students, their own kids, involving music and video presentations. We want the parents to feel at home on Long Island, too.
In retrospect, I feel that it’s great that the first meaningful and long-lasting experience these students (and their families) have with America occurs on Long Island. It’s rewarding to, now, help them remotely with their college applications and watch these students grow over the years they are with us.
When I was a Peace Corps teacher In Sierra Leone in western Africa decades ago, my mission was to show citizens of another nation what a typical American was like. Here, I have the same mission today, only students are the ones arriving from dozens of nations, learning what America is really about. I have often heard from our students during and after their college careers via email and personal visits. Some have become scientists, attorneys, architects and writers, and no matter where they end up living and working, they will always be, in part, ambassadors for the goodness and hope found in abundance on Long Island.
Reader Herbert Munshine lives in Great Neck.