Sarah Quintenz is due in the front office for a new student enrollment.
14-year-old Mohammad Naser and his family fled Iraq, and have been in the United States for all of three weeks. A representative of the refugee resettlement agency Heartland Alliance accompanies them.
“Hi. How are you?” Quintenz asks. Mohammad smiles, bewildered. It only takes a few seconds to assess that Mohammad doesn’t speak any English.
If Sullivan High School on the North Side of Chicago had a motto, it would be “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Its immigrant population now numbers close to 300 –45 percent of the school’s 641 students– and many are refugees new to this country.
This academic year alone, the Rogers Park school has welcomed a staggering 89 refugees–nearly three times as many as last year and far more than at any other high school in the city. The recent surge, fueled in part by an influx of Syrians, has turned the school into a global melting pot, with 38 countries and more than 35 languages represented.
The third most common language, after English and Spanish, spoken at Sullivan? Swahili.
How Sullivan got to this point is a fascinating story of a school that not long ago was struggling for survival. During what’s been called the worst refugee crisis ever, with nearly 50 million children across the globe fleeing violence or other threats, Sullivan has reinvented itself by addressing a critical question: How do you give these kids a second chance? [continued]