By Chelsea Iorlano, Development & Communications Associate
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
Across Washington, DC, Montgomery County, MD, and Fairfax County, VA, summer break has ended and school is officially back in session. From planning lunch recruitment sessions to meeting with school staff and administrators, from printing intake forms to writing program lesson plans, AALEAD staff are hard at work preparing for another school year of successful programs. As staff work diligently to bring in returning AALEADers, as well as recruit new low-income and underserved Asian Pacific American youth in need of support, many of us reflect on our own first days of school growing up…
“This is me on my first day of Kindergarten! I was extremely shy and didn’t speak at all in school. In first grade, I was sent to ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) even though I spoke English at home. Thankfully, I was encouraged by great educators who inspired me to speak up and be confident.” — Charles Kuo, DC Elementary School Program Coordinator
“I was always mixed feelings at the beginning of September. The first day of school was kind of rough because I was a really shy kid so it took a while for me to warm up to my new classmates. It also didn’t help that my birthday would be on or right after the first day of school so classmate bonds weren’t that strong. Yet I was always looking forward to starting with a clean slate and seeing what kind of teacher I would have for the year. Learning was fun!” — Yonsoo Kang, VA Middle School Program Coordinator
“Fall is my favorite time of the year because there is something so refreshing about starting a new school year. All of the school supplies were always on sale, and I loved carefully placing new items in my Spacemaker pencil box. To this day, there are few things that make my heart as happy as hearing about the first day of school from our young people. The first day of school always felt like a new adventure to me, and I feel so fortunate to be able to continue experiencing this feeling many times over with AALEAD youth every year.” — Tina Ngo, Mentoring & Volunteer Programs Manager
“It was September 1983 and I was off to Brown Station Elementary School – I had my wide collared velour shirt to match my Mickey Mouse tin lunch box and a bowl cut to match my sister’s haircut. Aside from the dust on my side of the stairs, I was excited for school! It was challenging at times for me trying to “fit in” school— somehow velour shirts never caught on, even though it is so soft! I eventually learned to be confident in who I am and the following year had less tears and got matching velour pants! Good luck on the new school year, everyone, and as Dr. Seuss once said, ‘Why fit in when you were born to stand out?'” — Neel Saxena, Development & Communications Director
“While other students might worry about finding the perfect outfit for the first day of school, or who they would sit with at lunch, I was nervous about something else entirely: roll call. Each and every year, I had to teach a whole new set of teachers and peers how to say my name. If you have a name that’s “difficult” to pronounce, you know the process I’m talking about: teachers will squint their eyes at their class roster list, bring the list closer to their eyes to see, then hold it at a further distance (to see better?), apologize in advance for saying the name wrong, and either rush through saying the name or take forever to sound it out – all in front of the entire class. For years I was embarrassed about my name, but never more so than on the first day of school. I just wanted to be “normal.” Looking back, I wish I could tell the grade school me that my name is nothing to be ashamed of, and that it should not have kept me from truly enjoying the back-to-school excitement so many of my peers had each year.” — Keo Xiong, MD Programs Manager
A special thank you to all of our staff for sharing their personal stories and for working so hard everyday to create safe spaces for our low-income and underserved Asian Pacific American youth!
Stay tuned to read more about AALEAD programs as we kick off the school year!