ESL class meets students where they are, linguistically

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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Anya Valdospinos arrived in Pittsfield in April 2016, just days before her 16th birthday, to live with a mother she didn't grow up with.

Compared with the beautiful quincea era she had surrounded her great-grandparents, cousins and friends the previous year, her 16th birthday was "really sad actually for me. It was very different."

In addition to having to build a relationship with her mother, Valdospinos had to go to a new school, learn a new language and simultaneously learn the subjects she needed to stay on track to graduate.

"I didn't know English at all," she said. "My mind wanted to explode. The time was passing really slowly."

Fortunately, said Valdospinos, she landed with a warm welcome in Louise Celebi's classroom on the second floor of Pittsfield High School.

During a nearly 20-year career of working with kids and adults learning English as a second language, Celebi has met people in all states of emotion and well-being.

She remembers her first days with Valdospinos.

"It was very obvious to me how bright she was, and also how very disoriented," Celebi recalled.

After a period of skipping school, struggling with new friends who used drugs, and generally being homesick, Valdospinos began to set new goals for herself, including "being away from drama," to focus on making more positive decisions.

"I just knew I wanted to study to be a better version of Anya," she said.

Despite the odds, Valdospinos passed her state exams during her first spring in the United States. Today, she's a high school senior who's set to graduate this spring with honors, and has already received some college acceptance letters.

Valdospinos loves her classes, her friends, her family, and especially her teacher, Ms. Celebi.

"Sometimes, I was really lost. You give me the help that I really need," the student told her teacher. "We need more teachers like that, when one teacher cares about you because they know who you are. You give me that confidence."

Said Celebi to Valdospinos, "I couldn't have done that if you weren't brave enough to trust a stranger. We had to build that bridge together."

Next month, Valdospinos is set to celebrate a very happy 19th birthday.

"I am a new person," said Valdospinos. "I want to be a professional. I'm proud of who I am and now I know I want to help people. I want to change the world."


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