Katherine Zelaya sits in the front of her math class, leading her table of classmates in a word problem that’s asking them to determine the median and mean for a set of numbers.
“¿Por qué?” she chimes in, asking Maria Alejandra to tell her why she came to a certain conclusion.
“Jesús, termínalo,” the 19-year-old says a little later, encouraging the classmate on her left to finish his work.
The scene in Michael Krell’s probability and statistics class at the International Academy at Cardozo Education Campus in Washington, D.C. is a far cry from what Zelaya remembers of her first year in the U.S. after moving from El Salvador almost four years ago. Back then, she was in the minority of students at her former high school who were learning English.
“I knew some things that they were doing in the class, for example, in math class,” said Zelaya, who has big brown eyes, an ombre hairstyle that fades from brown to blonde, and pink braces that sometimes cause a slight lisp. “Like, I know the process and I know everything about it … just the problem was the language to communicate with the teacher and with the classmates.”
Now a senior, Zelaya is an inaugural member of Cardozo’s International Academy, a school within a school designed specifically around the needs of recently arrived immigrant students like her. She feels confident in her classes now, she said, and enjoys being able to support her classmates in their learning.