By Alice Ying Nie & Ruben Vargas, STEM Prep Academy
This winter break, teachers, students, administrators, and staff took time to reflect on a variety of things for which they are thankful. Family and friends are obvious recipients of this gratitude, but at the Nashville Newcomer Academy students also gave thanks for the unique learning spaces, supportive environment for collaboration and differences, and the multitude of little things that we often take for granted. Our diverse student body and passionate teachers make up this wonderful place that many students now call their second home.
The Nashville Newcomer Academy is extraordinary in that our classrooms are made up of students from around the world who bring with them a variety of languages.
All our students bring with them unique life stories and colorful experiences. Meet Anna. Anna is fourteen years old. She moved to Nashville with her family from a town called Baraka in the country of Congo when she was thirteen years old. Anna still remembers when she first arrived to the country, “I felt like I was living in an unknown place. There were a lot of houses, a lot of lights.” However, this unknown place soon became home as Anna and her two younger brothers were welcomed into the Newcomer Academy with open arms.
While she occasionally reminisces about her town Baraka, she is grateful to be in a school with chairs and where teachers “work hard for the students.” During this holiday season, Anna is thankful for access to a great education and the ability to envision a different future for herself and her family, “Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor. But if I would have stayed in the Congo, I would probably not have been able to achieve my goals.”
Nancy is from El Coco, a small town in Guatemala where most of her family still lives. Nancy’s father passed away when she was very young and her mother worked tirelessly to provide a better future for her and her siblings, “My mother used to sell food like ‘tostadas.’ All the money she saved for us so that we could have a better upbringing.” At her various schools in Guatemala, she did not learn much and cycled through an endless lineup of new teachers leaving little room for student teacher rapport. Students would bully her and tell her that she was “not intelligent.” Here at the Nashville Newcomer Academy, Nancy is being recognized by teachers and other students as a studious scholar who cares about her own education. In addition to being excited about seeing snow, Nancy is grateful for the opportunities here in the United States and for all of her teachers here at STEM who are “helping me achieve my dreams.”
Our diverse students bring beautiful cultures and backgrounds along with their hopes and aspirations. As they give thanks for the work that our teachers do day in and day out in the classrooms, after school, and on weekends, we are the truly blessed ones as we get to build colorful classrooms made up of citizens from around the world. As we reflect upon these narratives, it is only logical to feel gratitude for the opportunity to be able to work with and teach these students. We are grateful and humbled by the events and circumstances that have brought them to us. Our scholars serve as a constant reminder that we should give gratitude each day for the small things in life, like chairs in a classroom, or the changing of seasons that brings snowy winter days.
More about the authors: Alice Ying Nie is the Academic Dean for the Nashville Newcomer Academy at STEM Prep Academy. Ruben Orozco-Vargas is the 7th/8th math and science teacher and the Nashville Newcomer Academy chair.