tv Elly Fishman Refugee High CSPAN October 3, 2021 5:37am-6:33am EDT
chicago continues. >> good afternoon. welcome to the 36th annual near south planning board printers fest. please help me thank our sponsors for putting on this event. [applause] >> before we begin, we ask you silence your cell phones and turn off all camera flashes. the restrooms are off to my right, down past the elevator. and when we do qen
question-and-answer at the end of this presentation, i will bring a mic up to the stand. we ask that you come up there so that questions are clear on the videotaping. and with no further ado, i want to introduce the author of refugee high coming of age in america. she will be in conversation. thank you very much. >> thank you. [applause] >> hello? oh, there it goes. thanks, everyone, for coming. welcome. i'm a senior producer with wbez radio, the local npr affiliate. as you heard, with me is the author of "refugee high". also with us is the director of the english language learners department at sullivan high school and also sam who is a
former sullivan high student. thanks, guys for being here. >> thank you. >> we're going to start off with sort of a short reading from "refugee high". some of you may have already read it. some of you may just be familiar with the story. some of you may not know the story behind it. but essentially it's about the school sullivan high school in rogers park which has -- i think it's almost half, right, almost half of their student body are foreign born, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, etc., from about 50 countries. they speak like 40 languages in the halls. this is the story -- the story is about the community in sullivan high school.
she is going to kick us off with a brief reading. >> so happy to be here. so among the folks i met at sullivan, obviously are sarah and sam, but i follow four students in the book. they're from different corners of the globe. one student's from guatemala. one student's from iraq. one student's from myan mar. the other student is from the democratic republic of congo. follow their stories over the course of a single school year as well as sarah's among others. but what i thought i would read today is the introduction of a young woman named shaheena. these are pseudonyms. her name is shaheena in the book. she's a sophomore at sullivan in myanmar. every morning on her way to sullivan high school, she passes reminders of the life she
narrowly escaped. that's why she counts down the days until she turns 18. she still has 408 to go, but that's close enough to keep the sophomore in good spirits. though the way to school conjures bitter memories, a refugee from myanmar is always relieved to be out of the house. tensions are high at home. she and her mother rarely speak, and when they do, [inaudible]. school offers distraction. inside sullivan she walks past quotes painted next to each classroom. the american dream is being able to follow your calling. one from dr. seuss, think left. think right. think low. think high. oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try. the school is a sea of navy blue lockers with the bright yellow s, sullivan's insignia painted above them. below the drab black and brown checkered floors seem to dampen the optimism advertised on the walls. the deteriorating first floor
girl's bathroom marked by large concrete slabs and rusting water pipes stands among one of her cherished spaces inside sullivan. it is there in the room that the 16-year-old will station herself near the mirror and take dozens of hijabless selfies. she will keep up with ongoing flirtations with boys on facebook messenger. recently she's been talking to a boy from boston who claims he carrys a gun and runs with a crew. though she's never been particularly interested in school, she looks forward to starting her sophomore year at sullivan. at school, she can watch youtube tutorials on makeup looks and catch up on social media gossip. she can make plans to watch scary movies and hitch a ride to the mall.
she can drink diet coke and eat soggy pizza. ever since she began fighting with her mother, she refuses to eat at home. most days meals provided at school are the only ones she eats. at sullivan, she can be a kid. six months ago, the teenager thought she'd never get that chance again. so that's shaheena, one of the four students that we follow in the book. >> thanks very much, ellie. so where i want to sort of get started here is, you know, you described shaheena, the school, you get a really good sense of where she is, but i want to go even before that, before you walk into sullivan. i want to turn the clock back to 2016ish, 2017, on what's happening in the world at this time that leads you to seek out local refugee stories. >> yeah, so this story does go
all the way back to 2017, so i've known these guys for a long time now. very much part of each other's lives at this point whether they wanted that or not. [laughter] but i first began this project actually after attending a protest, after donald trump was inugh rated in -- inaugurated in january 2017 and one of his first executive orders was signing a travel ban from seven majority muslim countries, and when i was there, at o'hare airport, where this protest was happening, i just wondered to myself, who are these refugee families arriving in chicago, and what do their lives look like here? and that quickly led me to sullivan, because i've always been interested in the lives of young people, and when you think about young people, you think about school. and as you mentioned in your lovely introduction, almost half
the students at sullivan are refugees or immigrants. so as soon as i walked in the doors, probably on my way to meet sarah for the first time, i was completely overwhelmed by the scene that i saw, the languages and the visual languages of flags and different fashions from all over the globe, and i thought, this is a place where there are many stories to tell, and i want to figure out what they are. >> so you mentioned meeting sarah. who else did you meet on that first day? >> well, i think i spent a lot of time in sarah's classroom at first, and sarah had to give me the green light before i started meeting students. you know, that was very purposeful. i mean, sarah really takes great care of her students, and i was also aware i was an outsider walking into a classroom with kids carrying all different kinds of experiences, including
very serious trauma, and i didn't want to encroach on anyone before they kind of knew who i was and got familiar with my face, so sarah actually had me play some of her typical classroom games. one called hot seat, which now i've put you in up here, so it all comes full circle. >> thank you. [laughter] >> where i sat in front of the class, and with a big jar of candy -- i don't think you were in that class, but i met you around that same time. >> yeah. >> yeah. your sister was in that class. >> my sister was there. >> yeah. and kids were encouraged to ask me questions, and as a reward, i would answer and throw them a piece of candy, and slowly it just started to, you know, build familiarity and relationships with kids, and then it kind of unfolded from there. >> like a trust building exercise. sarah, i want to turn to you. you know, this journalist rolls
up to your school. what's your reaction? >> i'm nervous about the microphone now because we just got lectured can everybody hear me. [laughter] >> okay. so i told ellie over and over again and tell people all the time, what is entertaining to you all is our real lives. so you, ellie, a person, comes in and they want to hear our stories, and they think it is so fascinating to meet kids from all over the world who speak all these different languages and has had all these different experiences, trauma or otherwise, and it can be very exciting to hear, especially if you just live in your own little bubble in chicago, and you hear about things on the news, but it can be exciting, and you can be swept up in the moment of meeting someone who is actually experiencing this. she's talking about being at the airport.
we actually have a student, sam and i both know a kid whose family sold everything in turkey, got on the airplane, like sold their car, their clothes, everything, got on the airplane, came to chicago, and they were stuck in the airport the day that donald trump closed everything, and they had to go fly back to turkey, but they had no apartment, no clothes, no car, nothing. so it's exciting for people when they meet students or meet people who have actually experienceed these things that we hear about on the radio or see on tv, but i was regularly reminding ellie who is news and exciting to you is actually our real lives. what are your intentions? what are you planning to do with our stories? and how are you going to tell our stories? because it isn't always entertaining. it doesn't always feel good. and we -- i say we, meaning the students and the adults that work with those students, whether it be community
partners, refugee agencies, or teachers, we go home at night, and we carry that stuff with us, and we take all of those things home with us and try to find a way to compartmentalize and shut it all down so we can do our regular lives too. as far as hot seat, i just wanted to add, there are four questions that you're not ever allowed to ask someone in america. and so i was always teaching my students they come from cultures where you don't ask questions. the teachers give you the information that you need, and it's considered extremely rude to ask a follow-up question or for clarification, and then just in general, the kids are really shy about their language and just the cultural differences of getting to know people in this country, and so i was constantly putting people in the hot seat and forcing my students to ask questions except for four questions you are never allowed to ask. who did you vote for? how much money do you make?
how much do you weigh? and how old are you? >> that's the best advice -- >> those are very inappropriate questions in our culture. >> i remember that. sarah told me don't ask any woman in america how old are you. [laughter] >> also dating advice. >> she saved your life with that advice. [laughter] >> sam, i want to turn to you, can you give us a little background about yourself? tell us about, you know, where you came from and how you ended up at sullivan. >> okay. so my name is sam. i'm from syria. my dad is from lebanon. when the war started, my dad said let's move to egypt. we lived there for three years and four months exactly. we studied there, me and my sister. my dad opened a business and we started working and everything. then egypt started having problems. one day from nowhere my dad received a phone call.
it was from a church in cairo, egypt, and they said we would like to see you because [inaudible] ready to leave for chicago. my dad didn't believe the phone call. he hung up and said someone is playing a game with me. he hung up the phone. then they called again. we went for the meeting and everything. from there we started the process of paperwork, passport, everything. then we just came as refugees. >> so you get to chicago. you get enrolled in sullivan. >> yeah. >> before sullivan, what was your first impression of chicago? what's going on in your mind? >> so i came o'hare, from o'hare right away to the house they rented for us. it was apartment, not a house. so it was all the way in really like bad shape house, but
[inaudible]. because i told you, we were so good in our country. my dad had everything for us, everything we want. but when the war started, we lose everything. my dad had two dealership. he lost them. after two weeks, right away they send me to sullivan high school. >> it's been a million years since i have been in school, but i know the most nerve-wracking moment is the night before your first day of school. that's for any kid, let alone someone who is coming to a new country and starting at a new school. what was going on in your mind the night before you -- >> before school? or the night when i get here? >> the night before your first day at sullivan? >> i mean i can't really remember. i can tell you i couldn't believe that i can make it. first thing is the language. when i came here, i only speak arabic. my country their second language
is french. i didn't learn french that much. when i came here, everybody is speaking english and some people speak spanish. before we talk about school, we have to talk about the first two weeks i have here in chicago. i walked down to my apartment. i'm going to find somewhere to buy a sim card to turn on my phone. i couldn't talk to the guy. he kept looking at me. what do you want? i keep like pointing -- >> pointing at your phone? >> he's like, i can't help you, man. i'm like okay. i go back home. i couldn't get a sim card for my phone. the day i get to sullivan, i was talking to my sister. and then i told her how can we make it? we just came here. it is a different culture, different language, different people. too many things are different. how are we going to deal with that? it was hard for me. but when i came to story, it is
a way different story. >> sarah, do you remember meeting sam? >> i think i better leave. [laughter] >> i do. i do. he and his sister were placed in the same class actually, so i remember meeting both of them. >> so what were your first impressions? >> first impressions was he was actually very quiet. he was very -- he was very quiet, and he just kind of stood there. 24 hours later, he was no longer quiet and hasn't stopped talking since. [laughter] but first impression, this is just another guy, and he's going to learn english, and life will be great. >> so you made the english the -- you lead the english language department at sullivan. there are 40 different languages spoken there, you will hear french, english, swahili, etc.
sam mentioned he was nervous about the language. what does communication look like at sullivan? >> yeah, it is funny because we did an event a couple days ago, and i made the audience participate in an activity to show them what we do at sullivan with all these different languages. but it's just like what you see up here. it is a lot of smiles, lots of hugs, high fives. it's very kinesthetic. you know, it is a lot of just using your body to point at things or charades. i am pretty well known with my students for my awful drawings on the board. it's a lot of pictionary. >> also sam mentioned one of the first things he did was try to get a sim card. he's not alone in that. every kid no matter how little they have or how much they're struggling, they have a cell phone. and that was one of the first things i noticed at sullivan too, and technology is
absolutely part of the book as well, and it's this amazing way that young people stay connected with their home countries, with their communities, but also how they communicate with each other. like one of the nicknames for sullivan is -- that maybe i gave it is the google translate school because i was always seeing kids like sam who wanted to talk to their, you know, classmates from let's say the congo, anywhere, right, or wanting to flirt or wanting to share music, and google translate, i mean i had no idea how advanced it got. you can take a picture, and it translates it into a language, let alone putting in what you want to say and communicating. one of the favorite things i would see inside the halls is kids kind of flirting with each other through google translate
and how things would get a little bit scrambled in the most beautiful wonderful ways. i think phones even though that's not really what the teachers are doing. that's one of the things that i saw is a big way how communication happens with all teenagers. >> the unifier here is a teenager is a teenager anywhere; right? >> yeah, totally. >> in the book, you focus on four students that go to the school. the way we are introduced to them, we learn about them as people and who they are before we read and learn about the burdens that they carry or the trauma they may have experienced. why was that important to you as you were writing this story? >> well, i think -- i mentioned earlier, you know, that i was aware that these kids carry heavy burdens and come from all different kinds of backgrounds and situations, but i was also -- i mean, look at this young man, you know. they're not defined by that. you know, they are multifacetted
people. they get here, and theyre trying to buy sim card so they can text their friends. they're teenagers. i wanted to understand who they were in the school that day and who they were as teenagers first because in my mind, and this is something sarah and i certainly talked about throughout the process, like what i was seeing were stories of resiliency, not stories simply of hardship. so much of that i feel like is often -- not necessarily overlooked, but a lot of stories about refugee narratives really do focus on the flight and the hardship, and i wanted to tell a different kind of story, and that honestly grew directly out of what i was seeing inside sullivan, you know. the memories i have while reporting the book sam was there seeing him dancing with his friends and plugging in his phone when he eventually got his
sim card which i'm sure didn't take him long and putting on his favorite songs and then all the boys starting to dance together and pulling in their classmates at school events. like there's an event they do every year called refugee thanksgiving, and you brought this incredible architectural -- i always mispronounce it. tell me. the inverted rice dish. >> [inaudible] >> yeah, i mispronounced it the other night. i was trying not to do it again. you know, those are the things that i wanted to highlight and to celebrate as much as telling, you know, of course the stories of the cultures they came from, the places they fled and their journeys to chicago and to sullivan. >> i mean, as journalists, we often deal with the ethics of reporting young people's stories, reporting with kids. you mentioned part of how you
built trust was this hot seat game where they got to ask you questions. how else were you building trust with the students and the faculty, you know, who were very protective understandably of the school? how were you, yeah, navigating, you know, getting them to trust you and trust you with their stories? >> we just took it really slow, and a lot of it, you know, before i ever took out my recorder or really did formalized interviews, i just wanted to have conversations with the young people, and even the teacher at sullivan, and i wanted them kind of in the same way sarah's encouraging students to ask questions in her classroom, i wanted them to feel like they had agency and they could ask me questions, and it was a conversation, and i also tried to make it as clear as possible that they could always raise their hand at any point and say they were uncomfortable or there was something they didn't want included in the
story. you know, when you're reporting a book over three years which is how long i was working on "refugee high", you really become part of each other's lives as i said earlier. it felt important to continue to remind kids of that as well because it becomes a conversation over many years. your lives change. you grow comfortable. you build an intimacy, but i always wanted to make it clear that i was still a journalist, and this was still a book, so even visual cues, like having a notebook out and small things like that, just making it -- just making sure they understood that i was at work, and they didn't feel taken advantage of, things like that were also important throughout the process. >> i mean, from what you are saying, you spent a long time there. >> i did >> i'm just -- i'm trying to think, you're sitting in the back of these classrooms.
you're meeting with these students. i mean, how are the kids responding to you? sam, how are you responding to the journalist in your class? >> i don't know. she was always there. before us and leave after us. one day i asked her, i remember, are you going to graduate from here? [laughter] >> i did get filtered into a freshman assembly once. i was like thank you, i think. [laughter] >> so can you share a memory that -- i mean, you are hanging out at the school for ages. can you share a memory or something that stuck out to you that you saw or experienced, whether it was your own experience with a student or observing the faculty interacting with them or them interacting with each other -- each other? >> one of my favorite scenes in the book and one that i almost wasn't there for was sarah's 30
something birthday party. we don't talk about age up here. >> please. >> yeah, but sarah, i think she called me the day before and she's like i'm pretty sure the kids are going to throw me a birthday party. i think you should be here for it. i said okay, i will be there. and i actually -- it was sam's sister who was one of the main organizers, another one of my favorite people on the planet. >> thank you. >> and it was this incredible like they got sarah out of the room so they could throw a surprise party, which i don't know, is that a very american thing? a surprise party? is that a tradition? >> yeah, we do that too. we surprise people at birthdays and stuff. >> put them on the spot, can you represent the rest of the world and tell us if you have surprise parties? >> strong journalism.
[laughter] >> she had planned it all out. she's very organized. they had written a sign that said happy birthday. everyone had brought dishes from home, like somalian pastries and, yeah, i'm not going to set me up to fail again. and curry and also sarah's favorite foods diet coke and chocolate. so that was in ample supply as well. and they -- >> do you remember the birthday card? >> yeah, i was going to get to that. the most amazing thing is that every student in the class, and maybe from several classes made sarah this hand made book where they had -- >> before that, i was talking about the poster board that was in the shape of a diet coke can that everybody signed. >> oh, yeah, yeah. >> it was all drawn with the diet coke font and everything. >> yeah. >> yeah. >> yeah. if you see a diet coke, you know sarah's not far. [laughter] >> but as her gift, they made
her this beautiful book where every student drew her a picture that was a scene from their home country. and it became -- and i remember they presented it to sarah, and it was thick, you know, like a foot and tied together with string. it was like a travel log of all the places that they had fled, and the memories they wanted to share with her, and it was. it really was one of the most beautiful moments that i saw at sullivan and now one of my favorite scenes in the book too. >> that tells me a lot about how the students see you, sarah. i didn't do that for my teachers in high school. and, you know, you mentioned they sometimes called you mom. >> i can talk about that. >> go ahead. >> from my side, i can't talk about other students, but i can
tell you, we always talk to each other, but when i came to sullivan high school, sarah wasn't only a teacher, not because she's sitting here, i would say it to everybody, i would say it to my family, sarah for me was a friend, a sister, a mom, a teacher, a helper, everything. she helped me with my court date. you believe that? she called my lawyer to -- like i had a speed ticket. she helped me with that. she helped me to find a job. she used to spend like at least more than two hours a day how i have to talk to people, and go like -- don't do that. they are not going to like it the way you do it. you have to do it this way. if i want to apply for a job, how i should dress up, how to do my hair, everything, i have to look nice for that.
she's not only a teacher. for other student, they say the same thing, when we go to sarah's class, we feel like we are home. i'm telling you, she's not only a teacher, she treats everyone the same. she's never like oh he's -- no, we are all the same. but she treat us -- believe me on that -- as her kids. >> sarah, you also -- i mean, you also call your office the womb. you know, kids run in -- >> i actually call it the uterus but i guess that was inappropriate for the book. [laughter] >> to me that tells me like that you -- i mean, that's a different dynamic than i think the average ell director of a department or even just regular teacher has with their students. why -- what made you want to approach helping these kids that way? >> well, because they are all a bunch of babies. >> got ya.
>> one hero. >> he's the hero. [laughter] >> they are all a bunch of babies, and they're learning to grow or learning how to behave and they are not allowed to leave school, leave the underworld, until they have been fully conditioned and trained and ready to be, you know, ready for the rest of you to meet them. so it started -- i mean, the uterus is a joke, but just in general, i just approach them all as little babies. i tell them all the time, you're not dumb. you're learning english. >> uh-huh. >> you are not going to try to get away with something here because you're from somewhere else or you don't speak english, like, you still have a brain in your head. you still have experiences and values and morals and lessons that you've learned and manners. it may be hard for you to articulate those because you're learning english, but you're not dumb, and i'm not going to let you get away with this just because you are in a different country around different people
or you don't know the language. >> that's why i speak three language now. >> three languages? >> a lot of these kids come out of sullivan not only speaking fluent english but spanish. i come out feeling real dumb because i start with english, and i ended with english, nothing more. >> as far as how sam and i are talking up here right now, it is a lot of humor. you asked how do we teach? i said, you know, hugs, and yes, it is google translate and everything, but it is so much humor. the other thing i always tell the kids if we're not laughing, we're crying. we definitely have a lot to cry about. you know, he's telling this beautiful story of like well the war broke out so we left, and then they called and said we could come to america. that's the shortest quickest easiest description of sam's life, like i know where he actually came from. i've had dinner at his family's
house. his family came to my parent's house two years in a row for thanksgiving. i know their story. i know his father. i know his mother. and you would be in a corner crying if you knew his real story. so i always tell them, if we're not laughing, we're crying. let's do a lot of laughing >> the way your department and sullivan sort of supports the students that come in, to me this seems way beyond just learning english; right? >> uh-huh. >> you talk about, you know, advice you would give in how to get a job, you know, court dates and all that advice that you give just for kind of a cultural notes that might be helpful for him, why is -- actually i will say this, was the ell department always taking that approach? or how has it evolved to what it is now? >> i can't speak to how it was before i got there.
i was hired in the fall of 2012, yeah. in the fall of 2012. and i started as a teacher. i just started running my class room that way. it was just, you know, i think you wrote about the only fight i have ever had? >> yeah, yeah, yeah. >> yeah, so i sort of just ran -- i always ran my classroom that way as a family. every monday through thursday, with bye, love you, haved a goo igt >>. -- have a good night. and then fridays is bye, love you, have a good weekend. don't get pregnant. you know, it started out as a joke, but love you, i was just kind of stirring the pot, and then a student one time said you know, your i love you is the only i love you i get all day. i said, you know, well in my head now i feel bad for -- i was kind of mocking them, you know, you're telling 18, 17-year-old
teenage boys bye, love you, you know, and they start saying it back, and i thought they were just mocking me back, but then this kid said, no, really, it is the only i love you i get all day long, and it just kind of -- as far as how the department is, you know, i just started it in my classroom, and then i was promoted, quote unquote promotion implies, you know, money and glory and honor, but really it is just more work. i was promoted to run the department actually the year that ellie started the writing the book, was it 2018 then? >> 2017, so when i met sarah -- >> that was my last year in the classroom. >> she was still in the classroom, and then she transitioned to the library. much of my reporting in much of the book, the kind of heart of the book i would say is her office, which is this small room at the back of the library, the uterus, womb, uterus, where she was stationed with her
department, and so much of the kind of ethos of her classroom were translated into this corner of the library, and you know, you were talking about how sam's family has come and had thanksgiving dinner with you and i've actually had dinner at your family's house too, and your mom made me an incredible feast. your mom's pizza is so good. in this room where i spent so much time and so much of the heart of the book unfolds, there was a literal table that kind of functioned as a family dinner table, and the students that came into that room -- >> to get some snacks. >> to get snacks, yes, to nap, during ramadan, there was a lot of napping, but also to find that family feel, and that's where i met a lot of the students who i end up following in the book because i was there,
and they were there, and in many cases, when they start to kind of get their footing and find their way at sullivan, they show up at the library less and less. they kind of leave the nest in a way. that's ultimately what you want; right? as they acclimate and become more comfortable, but because sullivan is a place where there's always new students, and there are about to be many many more from afghanistan, there are always new people at the table. it was this amazing -- there is a reason i spent most of my time there because it just felt like really it was a place, a physical space that sat at the heart of everything that sullivan was doing. >> i always introduce the kids to each other. she speaks about -- ellie spoke about new kids coming in and leaving and stuff. i would say -- i would always introduce them to each other and say this is your brother. this is your sister. and, you know, you'd end up having guatemala, nepal, syria, iraq, african countries, you would have all these different
countries sitting around this table, plus the people who work in the actual office trying to get work done while all these idiots sitting around gabbing about what's what. the idiots are students. >> you say it lovingly. >> i do. but they are talking about the dumbest things. i'm trying to work here. >> none of it feels dumb at 16. >> it's so dramatic. i always introduce them as this is your sister, this is your brother, and the coolest thing is when you see it transcend outside of the office, when you see them interacting with each other in the hallways or in other classrooms, and you'd see two or three students who, you know, nowhere outside of sullivan would you see these different cultures or languages interacting, and certainly not supporting each other and loving each other and helping each other or joking around the way they do, you know, you just look at these kids and think man, if
the rest of us could get our act together and behave the way they do, this world would be such a nicer place. >> oh, i was just going to say, you know, teenagers do kind of spend a lot of time talking about who they're dating and gossiping and stuff, and it can feel really trivial, but actually that was one of my favorite things about being at sullivan is that it is also a universal language, and, you know, no matter where they're coming from, and the languages they are speaking, they are still teenagers, and that was also really important to the story, and, you know, all that silly stuff that they are talking about and gossiping about is actually, you know, from my perspective, because i don't have to, you know, try and teach them in the classroom, one of my favorite things about sullivan something that i also spend a lot of time talking about in the book because it is what makes us the same, and even though i'm not a teenager anymore, although i was filtered
into a freshman seminar class, i see myself in them. i see myself in that. all those experiences still live very close to the surface even for me. so i wanted to write about that too. >> i want to tell everyone, so we're going to leave a few minutes at the end here, so if you guys have any questions, please feel free to, you know, get ready and ask them. but while you're thinking of a question, i'm going to ask at least one or two more. ellie, what sticks out to me in "refugee high", you know, you mentioned it is a story of resiliency. to me it is not a story about trauma or adolescence. i agree. what sticks out to me is it is a story of community, where we find community, even the most surprising ways, and how community evolves, how our definitions of community evolve. would you say that's the point of "refugee high"? >> yeah, in many ways, yes.
also how a school fits into a community and one of the things that i think sullivan and particularly the staff at sullivan do so well is they recognize that they are part of a broader community and really invite neighbors in and build that community from the classroom outwards, and it means that it extends beyond the four-year -- or however many years kids are in the building. i mean, lack -- i mean, look at sarah and sam, they are still close. i still keep in touch with many students. that's also a reflection of rogers park, i think, where the neighborhood in chicago where sullivan sits. it's a neighborhood sarah mentioned an earlier event felt like the whole neighborhood came out to support the school, and it is a place that rises up around sullivan in many ways and
rises up around refugees and immigrants too. that is community, yeah. >> sarah, i'm going to give the last question for now to you. you guys had mentioned the physical space that your office is, the relationships that you build with these students, which are obviously long-lasting. during the pandemic, you know, a lot of the last year and a half was remote. you didn't have the physical space to interact with your students and to build the relationships in that physical space. so, you know, one, how do you cater to the needs of these kids that really need help? and also, i mean, just like how are you navigating that and building those relationships? >> yeah, we -- i mean, we lost -- we lost a lot of it. you know, we -- i'm sure there were a lot of things that fell through the cracks, things that, you know, kids rely on school staff noticing, you know. there's things that happen at
home or in our personal lives that go unnoticed, that, you know, trained professionals or untrained but just were around each other all the time, that we pick up on and we notice, and students didn't leave their homes. if they signed on to the computer, you know, you're not picking up on those things. there's a lot of stuff that we missed. then the things that we could, you know, i went to a student's home and met with her in her backyard. she didn't go to school for three weeks, and it was her senior year, and i drove over there and said get outside, and we're going to mask up, and you stand over there, and i'm going to stand here, and i'm not leaving until we figure out why you are not in school. i have, you know, coworkers that did the same thing. you know, the social worker -- one of the social workers at my school would run groups outside in the parking lot, or he would drive to people's homes and drop things off outside their door.
we relied heavily on the kids admitting to us or reaching out for help, which they are not so good about doing. we missed a lot. it's going to take a long time to catch up. >> but you guys are back in school now? >> yes. >> okay. all right. so -- >> was that really 45 minutes? >> girl, that was 45 minutes. >> i was in the back room we're talking for 45 minutes. we can't do that. >> sarah, you don't know yourself. >> so i want to see if anybody has any questions? >> hi. i just want to say that i love your book from first page to the last. >> thank you. >> i wished it was longer. >> thank you. i will tell my editor. >> my only complaint is i wanted to know what these various
languages were, like if you wrote a sample of that top line and then mentioned what language it was. >> oh, yeah, i could do my best, but what i will say about the cover is -- on the cover; right? >> yeah. >> actually many of these translations are from the students themselves, so that's actually their handwriting and my amazing book designer's here in the audience. she's over there. jacqueline cantu. you should hire her. [laughter] >> so we had students write out refugee high in their native languages and then took a picture of it and photo shopped it together to be this cover. so on here there's arabic. there's swahili. there's nepalese. there's spanish. and a couple other ones too,
which i could tell you if i had my notes in front of me. but yeah, that was really special. i wanted to have a way to bring the kids on to the cover, and that was it. >> because the third one in particular i couldn't figure out what language that would have been. >> i think that's nepalese. >> the third? >> the fifth is nepalese. >> [inaudible]. >> yeah. >> and i do want to say your grandmother's very proud of you. >> oh, thank you. [laughter] >> i have the best grandmother. >> she's a classmate of mine in a memoir writing group. >> another place i wrote about once. >> any other questions?
>> so what i was going to ask is english department, you run it the way you do it, what about math and science? do they take the same kind of approach? or are they like yeah, that's not how we do things. you in english can do that? >> teacher questions, finally. [laughter] >> so we are very fortunate at sullivan that we have an administration that supports innovation and creative thought and creative approaches to everything, and so what we ended up doing actually was we're the english learner department, and we made ourselves our own cohort, our own department, so in the english learner department is math, english, science, history, music, art, gym, like the entire day that the kids see, and so then we have our own meetings, our own staff development, you know, our own -- everything that the regular school is doing, we're doing, but we get to do it on our own, so it is sort of like
how a special ed department will meet and plan their stuff in their own unique way that suits their students' needs. we get to do the same thing. so it is not just english, like the math teacher, the science teacher, history teacher, they are all doing the same thing that i'm talking about where we really care for the whole child and are teaching life skills over content. >> any other questions? >> this is a question for sam. sam you would probably what we call assimilated now. i would like you to reflect on how you have maintained your tradition, culture, and your language as you have now become an american. >> or do you even want to? is that even something that you value? because it is okay if you say no. but just explain to us why.
>> she's always a teacher. [laughter] >> i still speak arabic with my parents because they haven't really learned english. they are going to college. they are learning english, but they are not really good. my friends are from lebanon, syria, iraq, whatever, i still speak arabic with them too. but half of my friends are arabic, and then half of them is mexican. so i speak more right now like spanish. but the arabic language, my family always say like don't
lose it, like no matter what, so like you leaving here, you're going to have family. you're going to have kids here, whatever. don't lose this language, like that's your own language. >> what about besides just language, though? she's asking about traditions, holidays, customs. like when you first came to america, you did not hug women. right? you didn't. and now you do. she wants to know have you -- do you still maintain a link to -- >> i mean, not really. like, i leave here every day here like my life is here so i'm doing how the people are living here, i'm doing the same thing. we don't have things called thanksgiving here. we celebrate it when we get here. a lot of other holidays, we don't have like -- like many things we don't have it there but i started doing it the way it is here because i'm living
here. my life is here. everything like it's changed complete to here so i have to live how people are living here. so i would say i leave it there. >> thank you, everyone. i have a question about the social networking links and the telecommunication links that the students have while they are in the school. they are communicating with friends all over the world, maybe people they met in refugee camps before they got here? do you have any sense of what it's like if they're comparing their life here to the fate of people who were relocated in other countries? like where does the u.s. stand in the kind of imagination of the people who aren't here, and how do the refugees in the united states communicate about their life here to people who ended up somewhere else? ::
and my best friend, his dad disappeared. they couldn't even find his body in the water. so i have a lot of fun there. we always talked -- americans always dream for the middle east so if someone wants to go to america, that's a dream, how are you going to go there and have your family life, language, people have it as a dream but
when they open up the doors as refugees people start coming and learning words and how you live and it starts becoming something like it's normal, he's leaving to america. okay. but they say can we find any way to come here, i'm like i don't know there's no way, what are you talking about about i tell you when i talked to my friends in syria, they don't have water, food. there's a lot of things they don't have that we have. i don't like to show what i have here because i do work hard for it. i had three jobs in 2016 and 2017 i used to work three jobs.
i don't show my friends there what i have here because they cannot have it. i'm still the same person whether i have one dollar in my pocket or 2 million or billions of dollars they are still my friends and i'm still the same so i don't like to show my friends what i have because it is a dream for them. a lot of people in egypt, they try, they just tried to get here. there's no way to get here especially with covid and stuff. there's people five months ago. but after that are you going to go out next month, next year.