"In their eyes, we are family."
- Dr. Stefani Ferguson, Chemistry Teacher
Records in the New Americans Economy Research Fund show, “Immigrants were responsible for nearly a third of total population growth in Warren County from 2011 to 2016.”
Many of the individuals who have moved to Warren County over the past few years have moved here for a variety of reasons - to escape war, escape poverty and to make a better life for their family. One family that made the move was the Msendele family.
Jeanine Msendele is a student at GEO International High School in Warren County. Msendele and her family moved to the U.S. from Tanzania. Msendele takes classes that native U.S. citizens take in school - english, math, science, art and history. However, learning in an American classroom does not always come easily to Msendele. Msendele is actively learning the English language.
The Kentucky Department of Education reported for the 2016-2017 school year that 22,356 students qualified for state funded English language services.
For many students in Warren County, english is not usually their second language but the third or fourth they speak depending on their home country.
April Webb, English Second Language teacher at Geo International High School, currently has 63 students in varied levels of ESL classes. Webb tries to plan lessons that are at the student’s level of english comprehension but tries to ensure that the assignments are not childish.
“English is hard to learn. I think the language and vocabulary can be particularly hard for the students to understand. If they miss the key vocabulary or phrases, it makes the rest of the reading or writing difficult to understand,” Webb said.
Currently Webb’s literacy and reading one class is learning about reading and understanding words associated with food groups as well as weather terms as the winter season approaches.
An assignment involving collected weather data for the end of Oct. encouraged Msendle to answer a question Webb asked students. Webb asked, “What was the temperature on Oct. 31?”
“Wait slow. 72 degree!” Msendle correctly responded.
“Good job! That’s correct,” Webb told Msendele.
Nouns are particularly hard for international students learning English for the first time. “Sometimes we have to take a step back before we can go forward,” Webb said.
An 11 classroom, dome shaped school located in Bowling Green, Kentucky is a place where many international high school students feel at home for the first time since they have moved to the U.S.
GEO International High School (GIHS) was established three years ago as a product of Warren County Public School System. It is the only four year international high school located in the region. GIHS offers an alternative school style where students opt in to attend.
GEO has become a home to many students like Msendele.
170 students speaking Swahili, Spanish, Burmese, Karenni, Karen, Somali, Kinyarwanda, Arabic and many other languages echo through the building any given day.
“People think of schools like this as a form of segregation. But it isn’t, we have specially trained teachers, ESL endorsement, and smaller class sizes. Many of our students also take electives at Warren Central,” Principal William Spalding said.
Students take math, science, social studies and english courses during their 6 period school day. However, for many of the students learning does not stop at the 2:35 exit bell. 70 students participate in the soccer league each week. Some students stay after for extra ESL practice. GEO also works with Bowling Green programs to create art projects that fill the walls from ceiling to floor.
Many of the girls also participate in the dance team. The dance team partnered with WKU Dance Team to create a dance routine for the upcoming “GEO Family Night” taking place on Nov. 16.
GIHS is like a second family to many of its students because of the programs it offers. Students often are in the same classes together and have had the same teacher for more than 2 years in a row.
“In their eyes, we are family,” said chemistry teacher Dr. Stefanie Ferguson. Ferguson explained that Monday mornings are a special time each week for the students.
All 170 students sit in the center of the school building, lining the wall. Students await the announcement of this week’s “GEO Superstars”.
Senior Van Mawia said the school is unlike any other and that he is glad to be a student at GIHS.
“It’s diverse. The students can help each other out. We help each other understand English and other cultures. They don’t just teach just for the paycheck. They really want to help us.”