On a foggy morning in the library of Wunsche High School, Principal Dr. Alfred James greeted the high school seniors gathered there with a simple message.
“One hundred and eight,” Dr. James said. “That’s a number you need to remember.”
That number referenced the amount of days until graduation, a milestone goal for the 25 seniors attending the Multilingual Programs Senior Summit. Each student in attendance is considered a Language Learner, or English as a Second Language student.
“We love having our Senior Summit,” Jennifer Bowden, ESL Specialist for Wunsche High School, said. “It’s really to get the seniors to focus for that one last push, to really stay motivated and to be inspired by each other and our guest speaker. It’s to help them understand those last few things, those last few requirements and hurdles to really get to that final day.”
The summit began with an hour of informational sessions, with teachers and staff from throughout the Multilingual Programs department and district speaking on topics like graduation requirements, attendance requirements, FAFSA, Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) testing, and scholarships.
One student, senior Awa Diouf, spoke to her fellow students about the importance of taking advantage of those scholarships and work opportunities that are uniquely available to students in multilingual programs.
“It is a benefit to speak more than one language, because it offers you so many opportunities,” said the Senegal native, who speaks three languages including French and English. “Those resources and information can help you build the future you want.”
After the informational session, students heard from educational consultant and inspirational speaker Dr. Jose Luis Zelaya. A native of Honduras, Dr. Zelaya emigrated at the age of 13 to Houston, after suffering violence, homelessness, and extreme poverty in his home country. In his remarks to the seniors, he emphasized that no one should be ashamed of their history.
“Today was created by the past,” he told the students. “By the dreams of our parents, by the sacrifices of our grandparents, we are here in this room today.”
Dr. Zelaya was the first member of his family to graduate high school, and eventually graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction specializing in English as a Second Language as well as a Ph.D. in Urban Education. He said that shared identity helps him connect with students in multilingual programs across the state.
“I am a member of this community. I am an English learner,” Dr. Zelaya said. “It is important for them to hear and to see someone that looks like them and sounds like them, who shares their background. When they see someone like them succeed, they see themselves in that person. It gives them hope.”
The morning session of the Senior Summit was the first of two on Tuesday, with another one at Westfield High School in the afternoon. The Multilingual Programs department is planning similar summits for students in additional grades, slated to take place next semester.