Silver Chips Online

A message to ESOL students

SGA member Selama Tesfamariam urges ESOL students to get more involved in Blair activities

By Eric Feigen, Staff Writer
November 7, 2017
"I have a message: ESOL students need to get involved in the Blair community. They need to know that English is not a barrier. I originally felt that not speaking English perfectly meant I couldn't get involved in clubs and other activities. Then I joined the Student Government Association (SGA) and I knew it could be done. I hope other ESOL students will follow in my footsteps and join."

Selama Tesfamariam, a Blair sophomore in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, immigrated from Eritrea, a country in East Africa, to the United States in 2016. When Tesfamariam first arrived at Blair, the majority of his friends were fellow ESOL students. For all of his freshman year, Tesfamariam and his friends were unaware of everyday Blair activities like spirit week and homecoming, events most Blair students don't think twice about. None of his friends participated in any clubs or extracurriculars due to their insecurities when speaking English. "I had some friends who were afraid to join clubs because they thought that they couldn't speak English well enough. I wanted to set an example for them and show them it could be done," Tesfamariam says. At the end his freshman year, Tesfamariam learned about SGA from Infoflow. Later that night, he visited the SGA website and saw that the organization's mission was to represent the student body. He thought joining would be the perfect way to start becoming involved in the Blair community and motivate ESOL students to do the same. After talking to his counselor, Jennifer Taylor, Tesfamariam became the first ESOL student to enroll the SGA in years.

Tesfamariam felt like he was out of place when he first joined the organization, "I saw everyone speaking in English very fast and very fluently, I was too intimidated to speak and was discouraged," Tesfamariam reflects. Eventually, his frustration drove Tesfamariam to ask Taylor to switch out of the class. Taylor, however, advised him to stick with the course, saying that participating in the SGA was one of the best ways to improve his English and meet other students. She also recommended that he talk to Michael Zick, the teacher who supervises the organization. Zick took the time to help Tesfamariam adjust to the fast-paced communication, "I had told Mr. Zick I wanted to get out of the SGA. When he heard why, he said that after every class he would talk to me about stuff I didn't understand. He said he would email me about what the [class] discussions were about. This cleared a lot up." Tesfamariam recalls. Through Zick's clarification and perseverance, Tesfamariam is now an active member of the SGA.

Tesfamariam explains that ESOL students are just as a part of Blair as everyone else. They are entitled to participate in the same school events and feel included in all Blair activities. “The purpose of homecoming and spirit week is to have fun, and ESOL students are a part of Blair and need to be able to participate. They deserve that opportunity, and the language barrier must be broken,” Tesfamariam explains. Tesfamariam wants Blair activities to be advertised and presented in simple English and multiple languages to ensure ESOL students are familiar with what is going on around the school.