Club helps Kennewick students with language barriers

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 27, 2012 

KENNEWICK -- When Mumina Jimaale first attended school in Kennewick four years ago, it was an intimidating experience.

"I was shy and didn't know anyone," said the Kennewick High School junior and Somali refugee. "I didn't know how to say, 'Hi.' "

It is an experience echoed by other members of the Achieving Leadership for All Students Club, made up of students from families that don't speak English at home.

Club members worked to help with anxiety and language barriers Saturday when they played host to the fourth annual Planting Hope event at Kennewick High. It featured cultural displays and information sessions for families wanting to help their child through school, ranging from graduation requirements to checking grades online.

"The kids need a place to fit in, and the parents need information, so we put them together," said Sarah Del Toro, parent involvement coordinator for the Kennewick School District.

Over 1,800 students in Kennewick schools are learning to speak English, and that group is fluent in one of 25 languages, according to school district numbers.

Many of those students are from Spanish-speaking countries, while others are native to Myanmar, Somalia and the Middle East. Some parents are in the Tri-Cities as migrant workers, but many came to the U.S. seeking refuge from turmoil in the home country.

Del Toro said the district organized similar informational events in the past, but officials saw an opportunity for students to gain from organizing it themselves.

Mumina, Alejandra Garduno, a junior, and Miryam Abdulmajeed, a senior, went to Kennewick middle schools last Friday to encourage students to attend ALAS club event and bring their families.

"When you came here, somebody helped you, so now you can help somebody," Garduno said.

All three also had duties Saturday. Mumina helped organize a Somali fashion show. Alejandra met with attendees throughout the day.

School officials said the leadership experience those students gain from organizing the event is vital. Many want to continue their education after high school, and orchestrating events such as ALAS also looks good on college applications and resumes.

In the end, though, the students in ALAS aren't much different than other students. They eat pizza and burgers and salads during their lunch hour. They chat and joke with each other, albeit maybe in a language other than English. If anything, being in the club helps them find their place within their new home.

"If you're shy, you lose it," Alejandra said. "You get more involved."

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