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A Thanksgiving Read: Inspiring Stories of ELL Tenacity

With the start of school behind us, Thanksgiving falls at such a perfect time, providing an opportunity to recharge, spend time with friends and families, and give thanks. As we all know Thanksgiving is also in part a story of common ground and celebration. During this time of relative quiet, at least on the work front, I find my attention turning to stories of inspiration that connect to our work, and to the direction we will take as a nation.

For example, I love the story of Enkhjin Tuvshinzaya, one that is probably very familiar to educators who work with large numbers of English Language Learners. Enkshjin emigrated from Mongolia at age 8 with no formal schooling, enrolling in the public schools in Arlington, VA. With great teachers and a strong education, she was reclassified in 5th grade, later granted temporary legal status, and went on to be the valedictorian of her high school before enrolling at James Madison University.

Recently I read about Yadira Banuelos who started elementary school in Houston speaking only Spanish. In 2015, Yadira graduated from Austin High School in Houston ISD as the valedictorian. More impressive - she was one of 25 HISD valedictorians that started school as an ELL!

And many of you may have recently seen Ilhan Omar on television. Ilhan came to the US from Somalia at age 8 after four years in a Kenyan refugee center. Ilhan is now the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States.

These 3 individuals set a shining example of what is possible, not just for educators but more important for the millions of students with similar backgrounds and experiences. Over the past few days I have sat in classrooms in both Cabarrus County and Chapel Hill North Carolina, and am so inspired by the optimism, hard work, and determination demonstrated by the students I got to observe.

It is no secret, especially to educators of diverse student populations, that this Thanksgiving falls at a time of great uncertainty. I felt this first-hand during my recent school visits, and recognize that many students and families are much more anxious this Thanksgiving than last Thanksgiving which only deepens their challenges in school and beyond.

At Ellevation we feel a tremendous sense of urgency and responsibility to do more, to improve, and find additional ways to “make gentle the world” as Robert Kennedy wrote. We are inspired by the great educators we support. Two of our values, Continuous Improvementand Persistence, reflect the grit and hard work they show every day. In addition to expressing deep gratitude for the educators that we are honored to work with, support, and learn from, we will continue to do everything we can to live up to and go beyond our value of Service. One concrete thing we will now explore is how Ellevation can facilitate more connections among educators both in person and online. 

In closing, we’d like to take a moment to recognize the sonnet written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, which remains engraved on the pedestal of our Statue of Liberty:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"