ESL students create their own lunchtime haven

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By Madina Safdari

Granada Hills Charter High School (GHC) is home to more than 4,600 students, all of whom have their own unique stories to share, but these are often left overshadowed by the sheer size of the school.

Every school year, not only do we admit brand new freshman from the San Fernando Valley, but we also welcome people from all over the world to GHC. The English as a Second Language (ESL) program consists of around 50 students in any given year and has been an integral part of making GHC the successful and accommodating school that it is.

When walking into E-3 on any given day during lunch, you are automatically greeted with smells of food from all over the world. Whether it is Persian chicken and rice or school pizza and macaroni salad, the food is emblematic of the people in the room. The students eating lunch in ESL teacher Josh Mandell’s room are a group of resilient students, all newer to GHC than we have ever been. Not only did they face a new school, they also faced a new language and culture at the same time.

Because of that, the ESL students who gather in E-3 at lunch find those 33 fleeting minutes of lunch everyday to give them a sense of home where they can connect with other students experiencing the same sense of newness.

E-3 has rather spontaneously become its own unconventional lunchtime culture club. What is apparent is the large number of ESL students in E-3 who eat their lunch, and mingle amongst friends from different countries and even continents.

These students not only have to become accustomed to a new learning environment, but also have to learn a new language and culture while navigating the ins and outs of high school. Undoubtedly, this makes building new friendships a bit difficult, but necessary.

Despite the inevitable culture and language barriers, they have created genuine friendships and do not let those differences get in the way of creating an accepting environment. Take junior Daniel DiazMolina, who moved to America from El Salvador about a year and a half ago. He recalls being welcomed by his classmates while still becoming accustomed to a new school.

“I had a friend from Dubai who helped me out and taught me English. We became very close so we could practice our English. I learned a lot from him,” DiazMolina said.

The supportive actions by classmates exceed beyond those of helping someone learn a new language. Junior Eric Chen, originally from China, recalls his favorite moment in ESL as being when all his classmates sang him Happy Birthday.

“I feel relaxed in the ESL class. I can practice my English but I also learn about different cultures from different countries,” Chen said.

Though they all come from different places, they share the same unease that we all do when coming to a new school. However, that shared discomfort brings the ESL students together and allows them to relate not only with experiences but friendship.

“They are, as a group, some of the most welcoming and friendly people I have met in my life,” Mandell said.

A new school means new friends, new teachers, new experiences, and new difficulties. With that in mind, it becomes even more important for everyone to take a note from the ESL students and create a welcoming environment for others at school.

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