By Shaima Ahmad, VA Programs Manager
Photos Courtesy of Shaima Ahmad

This past week three AALEAD youth from the VA High School Program at Annandale HS had the opportunity to attend a Student Voices Session at the US Department of Education with Secretary Arne Duncan and Under Secretary John King. The session was focused on hearing stories and gaining feedback from first generation immigrant youth and their families in regards to their experiences with the US education system. Despite being nervous and never having spoken at such a gathering, our youth showed tremendous courage and spoke eloquently. They spoke specifically about the challenge in navigating the system with limited English proficiency. Our youth also brought up an interesting dialogue on how the ESOL system can be beneficial but at times hold back youth in attaining their full potential. I am so proud of our youth and the ability they had to voice their opinions and push for reform.



Here is what Saif, Gulianna and Trang had to say:

“As we know, moving to another country is to open a new chapter in our journal of life. It was a big challenge for my family and I. We went through both hardships and happiness. So I would like to say “THANK YOU” for having me in the Round Table Discussion event. Thank you for taking your precious time to listen to what we had gone through in the United States as first generation immigrants. At first, I was nervous due to having to speak in front of many people in the room. However, I gained more confidence as time went by. It was an honor and great experience for me to have a chance to also learn of the similar challenges we have undergone when we first came to America.” Trang – Grade 11


“I am really thankful to this workshop about education. This student’s voices session with Immigrant and Refugee families was a great opportunity for me. Now I know that someone can hear me and help me to protect my rights. Meeting U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Dr. John King was something that I have never imagined in my life. Also Trang shared about how she felt went she came to this country and I feel sorry that many students that just came to this country have to feel the same way. I know we are immigrants but that doesn’t mean that we are different from the people that have lived all their lives in the U.S. We are humans and we have the same right that everyone has.” Gulianna – Grade 12

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“Visiting the Department of Education and meeting the Secretary of Education, Mr. Arne Duncan was a pleasure. I was so honored to meet such a person like him. It was an amazing experience for me to go there and share my ideas and my thoughts about our education system and how can things get better. However, I look forward to more opportunities and being more prepared the next time.” Abdullah – Grade 10

AALEAD Youth with Arne Duncan and Dr. John King

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