At a time when President Donald Trump’s administration is attempting to close the door to many immigrants, the school is a place of welcome for teenagers who are refugees, asylum-seekers, and other recent immigrants. The aim is to give students who speak little English—and often had little formal education in their home countries—the skills to graduate from high school and thrive in the U.S.
For some students, Trump’s recent executive orders barring refugees and pushing for a wall at the Mexican border have inspired fear, said Jessica Feeser, who oversees IPS programs for English-language learners. They are afraid they will be sent back to countries riven by violence—afraid they will be killed.
“It is very, very emotional,” Feeser said. “Honestly, how do you teach when you know that children are fearful (for) their lives?”
Educators talk with students about their fears, she said. They tell them the school is a safe place and teachers and others at the school will do everything they can to help them achieve their dreams.
Like many students at the newcomer school, Alejandra came to the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor, traveling north from Honduras by bus and on foot with a friend. When she reached the U.S. border, Alejandra was detained by immigration officials and sent to Indianapolis to reunite with her mother, she said.
It was a relief for her mother, Paula, who also declined to use her real name, when Alejandra finally made it to the U.S. For years, Paula had thought about bringing her daughter from Honduras but had feared her former husband’s family, who wanted Alejandra to stay, she said. It was only when she learned her daughter was involved with gangs that she changed her mind.
Now, Alejandra lives with her mother, stepfather, and 10-year-old brother in Indianapolis. Her mom still cries thinking about what they went through, she said. But Paula also has started to dream for her daughter’s future.
As Alejandra tells the story of her life in Honduras, she ducks her head and lets her long bangs slide in front of her eyes. But occasionally, when the story is funny, her face lights up and she bursts into laughter.
At the same time, she said through a translator, it’s hard being a student here in the U.S. She had power in Honduras, and when she had conflicts, she would fight with other people. Now, she has to control herself when people upset her.
“If somebody is screaming or using bad words with me, I just keep control,” she said, “because if I want to be the best person, I need to have control.”
When Alejandra started the school year, she was at Northwest High School, a traditional public school in Indianapolis. But she said she struggled to pay attention, often falling asleep or playing on her cell phone during class. At the newcomer school, she seems in her element. She is friendly and vivacious, chatting with other students in Spanish and greeting teachers in the hall. When two new students are brought into history class, she volunteers to help them.