What I am I going to do today? Who am I going to meet? Am I going to have the same friends in class as last year?
No matter where in the world they are, these are the questions on the minds of students as they begin school. And that includes the students of Oakland International High School in Oakland, California.
Nearly all of the 350 students at this school are immigrants and most are refugees from conflict areas somewhere in the world. So simple things — taking a quiz, trying out for soccer, or just finding a quiet place to have lunch — have more than simple meanings here.
Read on for one student’s look at how this world of students began this school year.
—photos and captions by Dominic Pablo, 16, Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Guatemala
Note: Due to the legal and immigration status of some students, last names in some cases have not been used. —The editors
My name is Dominic Pablo. I am the photographer who took all these pictures. I felt scared and nervous on my first day of school because I did not know anyone and whether there was going to be someone who could help me. Our feelings on the first day of school are something that we cannot control because of all the questions we have in our minds.
In computer class, Mariam (Rwanda), Karla (El Salvador), Karla (Guatemala) and Haseen (Afghanistan) talk to each other about important elements of community building. These students are using their time wisely by collaborating to develop a group idea.
OIHS is a school that is diverse; there are more than 350 students here from 33 different countries. The first day of a student at OIHS can be scary because he or she doesn’t know anyone in the school. Some students can also feel confused because they are still working on their English skills, so they cannot communicate easily with teachers. Other students feel happy because they are excited to learn a new language and meet new people.
A class is composed of students and teachers. But the most important thing that we are often missing in school is the excitement to learn and grow your knowledge. Anna Kaplan teaches English class for 9th and 10th graders. This picture shows the engagement of the students in her class while she teaches basic English Language skills.
This picture represents the first day of school of Nhu from Vietnam. She wrote on her whiteboard that she feels nervous but excited and she shows it with enthusiasm, smiling with a hand gesture. “I feel nervous because I worry about meeting new friends and teachers, and I feel excited about coming to a new school and learning new things this year,” Nhu said. “I wonder if people will be nice to me or mean?”
Technology is everywhere. Our teacher, Mallory Moser, says we can use technology to learn, think and grow. The students are very engaged in her class because they know the importance of computers and the Internet for our modern life. In this class, the students are using Google tools to develop surveys about each other’s interests, collect data and design infographics to share with the school.
Teachers meet to discuss the new school discipline policy. They are working together to become better teachers this year and have been meeting for weeks before school even began.
The new discipline policy that the teachers are discussing is based in restorative justice practices. The goal is to engage students in the classroom without having to write more referrals or send students to the office. The new policy has four levels of behavior — from community and cooperation to bossing, bullying and “chaos” — and it encourages students to be self-reflective and community members, instead of punishing and isolating them.