“There are times that I feel uncomfortable because of how people look at me as I’m wearing my headscarf. I’ve experienced some racism on campus.”—Razan Hussin, 19

Razan is a native Arabic speaker from Jordan who came to the U.S. when she was twelve. Being an immigrant student at Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, CA has never been easy. Historically a white, homogeneous community, San Lorenzo residents have treated newcomers with suspicion and discrimination for decades. In addition to the community’s xenophobic history, English language development (ELD) courses at Arroyo High are treated like an afterthought by administrators, preventing young newcomers like Razan from feeling engaged at school and developing crucial communication skills.

That’s why one ELD class asked Voice of Witness to design a project that would give students a sense of pride and purpose while building their listening, writing, and speaking skills.

Razan and the Arroyo High ELD class of 2017.

Razan and the Arroyo High ELD class of 2017.

With guidance from our education team, a class of seven students created an oral history book exploring how San Lorenzo newcomers have made a home in an unwelcoming environment.

For Razan, it was a transformative experience. She explains how interviewing residents of San Lorenzo helped her understand its history of racism, and envision ways to improve things for the next generation:

 

“This project helped me think about different ideas toward this community’s future and how I can work with others to make it into a better community.”

Since the project, Razan has hosted discussions with her peers about human rights, encouraging others to speak up in the face of negativity. She hopes that the book will become a tool for teaching the San Lorenzo community about other cultures and help prevent misunderstanding and bullying.

VOW is bringing more inspiring, relevant oral history projects to students like Razan in 2018.

In 2016, 32 states reported a shortage of ELL teachers, leaving half a million students without the crucial support and attention they need to thrive.

These projects not only help ELL students practice their English skills, they also give them a chance to learn about their community and their roles within it.

You can bring immigrant students the tools they need to learn, grow, and make a difference. 

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