Project SOAR at International High School

by Jessica Jarin

Welcome to the “world” at International High School! This school is the first on the West Coast that is affiliated with the Network of International Schools in New York City. There are 8 international schools in New York City which belong to the Network of International Schools; the oldest school is 20 years old! Two new ones opened this fall as well, one of them called Pan-American International which has all Spanish speaking immigrants. The executive director of the Network of International Schools is Claire Sylvan who was instrumental in establishing Oakland’s International High School. It took about two years of visits with the district, community groups, and parent groups before International High School was opened this August 2007. There are 20-21 different countries represented this fall- examples are Gabon, Yemen, Vietnam, Mexico, China, Thailand, Morocco, Honduras, Mongolia, Liberia, El Salvador, Philippines, Ghana, Nicaragua, Loraine, Uzbekistan and Guatemala.

International High School is located on 4521 Webster Street (the old Carter Middle School) - just a couple of blocks away from its’ larger urban sister high school - Oakland Tech. Upon entering the small campus, one feels as though walking through the international airport as I see students of all different cultures- mingling and some in groups speaking their native languages. Rather than seeing Rally Squad banners and typical high school propaganda; there are posters of intricately drawn scenes of life in “far away” places. Progressively, these scenes show political strife with military control. The captions are written in characters that look like backward loops; in addition to basic English grammar. This is reminiscent of many stories newcomer/immigrant students at International High School have about their home countries.

Student’s acquisition of English range from those who speak no English at all; but proficient in reading/speaking their native language, to those who speak English at a primary level while others have gone to private schools in their country. Some students may not have gone to school on a regular basis as we are accustomed to; while there are those who are fluent in 3 – 4 different languages.

There are no traditional grades ( 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th) at International; but rather four clusters/groups of students taking the series of high school classes. Grouping newcomer/ immigrant student with others who have mastered English and then taking all their classes together gives students an opportunity to learn English. For example, a student from Russia was put with another student from Russia and all day, attend classes together. This helps facilitate the lesson taught by the instructor. It is amazing to see a black student from Liberia explaining the structure of the nucleus to a new student from Cambodia . Someone could easily do a study regarding new acculturation on how these students adapt amongst each other while assimilating in their new country.

When assisting in the classroom, one notices how these students “look” like other high school students in mannerisms and dress; but the dynamics of interacting with others is one to note. There are those who feel more at ease in their cultural group, while there are those who mix and socialize with other races. I saw a male student from Mongolia befriend a male student from Mexico and both speak broken English. One student from Burma painstakingly used her Burmese dictionary to understand the context of the science class work – word for word. With this range of English proficiency, the instructors are culturally sensitive and passionate about teaching academic classes as well as American life to these new students. This is what makes International High School so different and exciting from traditional high schools in Oakland .

International High School has a special place for me as I can empathize with these new students’ life experiences in the United States.
I was fortunate to be born in the United States but both of my parents had just immigrated here from the Philippines. Many of the immigrants or the ‘50’s and ‘60’s did not mix with others nor acculturate. When I went to public school. I can remember in kindergarten being told to bring Easter grass. My father; extremely dutiful to work attendance was never late; but this morning, I could see stress in his face. I brought my bag of “Easter grass” in a paper bag which my father had hurried to give to me. When the teacher opened the bag, she looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, we have extra Easter grass for you”. My father was late to work as he had taken the time to pull out long stalks of grass from our yard.

I can imagine what it is like to be a newly arrived teen in this country- As an Academic Counseling Advisor, International High School is a very different school than my two other assignments. I tread lightly and see where I can be of assistance in making these students more comfortable in their new surrounding- whether it’s helping with reading or in understanding a new concept. It all makes it new again; as I must think of creative ways in conveying ideas to this group of students.

4521 Webster St. Oakland, CA 94609 | (510) 597-4287 | fax: (510) 597-4292