Ilana Gatoff, an Upper West Sider, teaches English as a New Language at the High School of Language and Innovation in the Bronx. The students at HSLI have recently arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic, Yemen, Bangladesh, Albania, Senegal, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Vietnam, Pakistan and many other countries.
“They are some of the coolest kids you’ll ever meet,” says Gatoff, “and usually enter our school as beginner English Language Learners, sometimes with limited schooling experience from their home countries. Our students work hard, and overcome many obstacles in order to attain the goal of a high school diploma in 12th grade.”
Toward the end of the year, the students begin what Gatoff describes as a “VERY short story unit – modeled after the NY Times ‘100 Word Love Story’ section. We’ve done this unit a few times, and have been touched by some of the beautiful stories our students have produced.”
Gatoff is one of four teachers who work collaboratively on the 11/12th grade English courses – her colleagues are Lindsey Corcoran, Steven Tynan and Nazia Akther. Gatoff shared some of their students’ stories with Straus News Manhattan:
By Iris Ordonez
My sister told me to carry him but I didn’t know how to carry him. He started to cry. I didn’t know what to do. I pressed a button to call the nurse. I told them that something was wrong with the baby but they only told me that the baby was hungry. I calmed down a bit. My sister signed papers. I was in love with my first nephew. Holding looked very easy, but not for me. His cries were cute, but now they are very loud. It was calm, but now it is always with some energy.
Creating The New, Leaving The Old
By Justin Reyes
I will never forget the time that my father told me he was moving out. Everything changed when he found a new woman. The hardest part was saying goodbye to him when he left. Sometimes I would cry because I remember the good times I spent with him. The hardest part was accepting that he has a new family and that I need to move forward. At first, it was very difficult to get used to my father not being at home. Today, I communicate with him occasionally, but deep down inside, I still cannot forgive him.
Apologizing to My Body
By Guadalupe Ramirez
Sometimes I would cry when I would look at myself in the mirror because of what I saw. I always criticized myself and hid my body in baggy clothes to feel better. Looking back, I realized how many things I deprived my body of. I would overwork my body, I would deprive my body of food and water because I ate too much the previous day, and even after all the hardships I put my body through it never gave up on me. I never gave my body the respect it deserved. No words can describe how sorry I am.
After a Long Day
By Amanda Gilaj
We would wait for our mom to come back from disinfecting buildings, so we could enjoy some time with her even though it was late at night. Amenda and Amarilda, my older sisters, and I have slept in the same room since I was born. We’d play loud dance music to avoid falling asleep, waiting impatiently for mom to come back home after 15+ long hours of work. Even though she was exhausted, we would take a walk around the sleepy neighborhood, happily talking about each other’s days.
What’s Behind Antarctica?
By Ali Algabayli
My life changed when I grew up and saw life from a different situation. For example, things that I used to see that were big and I couldn’t reach them became easy. I didn’t ever think about how I was going to grow up and that everything would change. Now that I’m older, I realize that there’s a lot of things I need to learn. For example, I believe that there is another earth hiding behind this one. They don’t want the common people to know about this. They want to control them and know what they are going through.
The Supposed Pony
By Arianna Alvarez
In 2012 I was on a school field trip to a zoo. I was very excited because they told me there was a beautiful pony. When I got to the zoo and saw the pony, the first thing I did was ride on. I felt the pony. It was very soft and very pretty, I really enjoyed it. Years later I go to see old photos and I realize something strange and it is that the famous pony was not what I thought. It was a donkey. All these years I was thinking it was a pony but it wasn’t.
Watching the Big Screen
By Hamilton Vix Cash
The day that I came here to the United States everything changed for me. When I first saw those big buildings, I was totally surprised because I had only seen them in the movies. Sunday morning I woke up in the morning, then I got ready to go to Times Square. On my way to Times Square there was a lot of traffic and I saw the big bridge. When I saw the big screen I could not believe that those were real. I have never seen anything like it. I couldn’t believe that I had made it. The screen was beautiful but not as beautiful as my Malacatan.
The Math Teacher, My Enemy
By Abdulrahhman Saleh
Three years ago, on the first day of school I felt that we were going to have a good relationship. But I was wrong. Once I was three minutes late for a class, so he called my father and said, “Your son is late every day.” But, I was only a day late, and when I came home, my father took my phone for a week, so I changed. From that day on, every day there was a problem. It was hard for me to like him. Even now, I don’t talk to him as much. Looking back, I know things could have been different. Maybe one day I will come to like him.
By Yaleidys Barbot
I remember that day everything seemed to be normal. It was just one more class but I met those eyes, those eyes that never left my head. Everything was strange, I never thought I could feel so many things with one look. A rare way of communicating without using words, simply eye contact spoke for itself. Those eyes reminded me of the sea. They were beautiful but at the same time it was dangerous, we were just strangers sharing the same class. I didn’t know their name but the owners of those eyes took me to another world, simply perfect.
Living Without Her
By Mohamed Traore
Sometimes, I would cry because I miss her so much. This woman is my mother, a pious woman. It’s too hard when I think about all our best moments, our calls and how she was important in my life. Since her death, I have learned to be strong without her because it is part of the stages of life. Even though everything changed after her death, I know my sisters will always be my guardian angels. They will not be able to replace our mother perfectly but they are still some of the most important people to me today.
Reminiscing About War
By Zainab Almulaiki
I will never forget the time the war broke out in Yemen. I woke up to my mother’s voice saying, “It’s time to get ready for school.” It was five in the morning. We had one hour to get ready and eat breakfast because the school bus picked us up at 6:05 a.m. The school day was normal as usual until the last few classes. I heard the sound of bullets for the first time in my life. A bomb, a tear gas, was thrown and we couldn’t see anything. We had tears in our eyes, and there were many armed men outside. Children were crying. Armed men provided us with two options: either to get out of the school or to kill us. We were hiding because the school bus was not enough for us. There were unconscious females on the bus. The children were crying and scared. I constantly heard the sounds of bullets coming from all sides. As we left the school, I saw many tanks and weapons everywhere in the area. We were very lucky to have a school bus, other schools didn’t and were killed. I didn’t go to school for a year and a half, losing my educational opportunities. I will never forget this day as it lives in my memory every day.