ESOL Students Struggle for Inclusion

by Katherine Sperduto ‘19

Have you ever felt misunderstood? Divided or separated from others? Or simply different and unable to connect with the people around you? For many ESOL students, these are just a few things that they deal with every day.

Within the past year or so, many of the ESOL classes were dispersed throughout the school in an effort to more fully integrate ESOL students into the Warrior community. But notice how the downstairs C hall is still referred to as the “ESOL hall?” Or how ESOL and non-ESOL students sit in different areas at lunch? This is indicative of the gap between ESOL students and students whose first (and often only) language is English. Laura Bernard-Sanchez, the head of the ESOL department, states that the ESOL students at Sherwood are underrepresented in many sports, advanced academic courses, service clubs, and social activities.

“I am very sure that there is not 10% ESOL kids in anything in school [extracurricular] except for possibly the International Club–and even that seems to have gone down since the club is no longer run by an ESOL teacher,” said Bernard-Sanchez.

Freshman ESOL student Estrella Gomez moved to the United States from Mexico in July of 2014 and she explains how she views the divide. “I feel more divided in sports, music, and other events that are traditional,” referring to such activities as Rock ‘n’ Roll, Mr. Sherwood, and other special events and activities.

Sports teams are a great way to feel included and involved in the Sherwood community. Sadly, sports is a main area of the Sherwood community in which there is great separation between those whose first language is English and those who are in the process of learning it. If one looks in the yearbook at just a few of the main sports teams at Sherwood it becomes evident that there are no ESOL students. Bernard-Sanchez believes that one factor that keeps more ESOL students from trying out for teams is the high cost of sports equipment and the time required to be on a team.

Another area where this divide exists is clubs. In clubs such as Best Buddies, Educators Rising, and Sherwood Ambassadors, ESOL students are severely underrepresented. This is a consistent pattern among many other clubs as well; however, there is ESOL representation on the  Homecoming court thanks to a decision that ensured diversity among the entire Sherwood community.

Bernard-Sanchez believes that because many ESOL have to obtain their education in an non-native language, learning in English becomes more of a challenge.  English-speaking students have an advantage in not having to learn a new language while also mastering various subjects. “There is a division but it is because some students come from other countries and have to learn to speak English [and have to take] ESOL classes [on top of everything],” said junior Mario Centino, an ESOL student from Guatemala.

Why does this divide exist? Sanchez stated that a lack of familiarity and financial issues could be factors. She describes how many of her ESOL students, instead of going home and hanging out with their friends like many non-ESOL students do, must work to help provide for their families. Bernard-Sanchez added that many of the ESOL students feel as if the students who grew up in the United States have experiences far different from their own, which makes it difficult to connect and understand each other.

Experiences such as feelings sometimes misunderstood by parents and teachers, worrying about dating, college, and their futures are all things that connect teens. “Students and staff need to reach out more, and all students need to realize that all teenagers, no matter their primary language, share common experiences,” said Bernard-Sanchez.