First Thanksgiving

Student stories of gratitude

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There is a special group of students who are especially thankful for their blessings at Hugh B. Bain Middle School. The seventh and eighth-grade Dream Team and the sixth-grade Rhode Island Red team are the English Language Learner (ELL) students representing 21 countries and 10 languages, many of whom are brand new to the United States, and some of whom are celebrating their first Thanksgiving.

There are approximately 90 students in the ELL program and they hail from Dubai, Pakistan, Equador, Puerto Rico, Cambodia, Liberia, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Guatemala, Bolivia, Syria, Honduras, China, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Columbia, Iraq, Kuwait and France.

On Tuesday afternoon, the students, under the direction of their dedicated faculty and staff, hosted a Thanksgiving luncheon for guests from the school and the school department. At the luncheon the students represented their countries with handmade flags and several read aloud presentations from essays which expressed a bit about why they are so very thankful this year. Guests were present from the Cranston Public Schools’ Central Office staff, including Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse, Assistant Superintendent Normal Cole, Executive Director of Educational Programs and Services, Joseph Rotz, Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Michele Simpson, Director of ESL, Kristin Ward, Hugh B. Bain Principal Jeffrey Taylor, Assistant Principal Brian Flinn, and Dean of Students, Michael Walsh.

“This luncheon is such a big undertaking and would not be possible without the help and support of so many in our community,” said team leader Sheila Hopkins. “We have had a lot of support from our school administration and staff, and we have gotten so many donations of gift cards, potatoes, stuffing, turkeys, desserts and paper goods from Aramark, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, Dave’s Marketplace, and we also received help from the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center’s Chef Martha and Chef Steve who cooked the turkeys for us. Without this kind of help, this event would not happen.”

The faculty members of the ELL program include Hopkins, Mary Colannino, Kerri Lapierre and Cory King.

Guests enjoyed the luncheon, listening closely as the students shared their stories aloud. Coming here from Cambodia, Venthai Mao is thankful for his teachers, friends and family.

“They are the most important part of my life,” he said. “They help me to be a successful person. They help me with my education and my life and without them I would have been lost. I’m thankful for my teachers because they educate me and prepare me for the future and college. They help me understand a problem that I don’t get. My teachers are funny, kind and caring, because of them it makes me want to go to school every day.”

Ibaad Faisal was born in Dubai and has been in the United States for just 15 months. This is his second Thanksgiving celebration.

"We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Dubai,” he said. “This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my education, my food and my friends. I am thankful for the education system in the US. It makes me proud that I am learning and adapting to a new environment and culture which will help me succeed in my future goals.”

Faisal hopes to become a doctor.

“I am thankful for my family, my health and opportunities and the freedom to be able to give my opinion,” said Ricardo Lopez. “I’m happy that I get an education and go to school every day to see my friends and learn new things. Having the ability to learn and to start preparing for my future is something I appreciate very much. I have a house with a roof over me, with food on the table. I also appreciate the things I’ve been given and knowing that my family and afford some things. My teachers, my friends and the community I’m in are awesome. I appreciate where I’m at and all the freedom I’m given.”

Lopez summed up the spirit of the Thanksgiving season in the conclusion of his essay.

“Again, video games, money and electronics are not that important. What’s important is family, health, and the freedom and opportunity you’re given every day.”

Sidra Tobal Hamo is about to celebrate her second Thanksgiving this week, having been in America for just about 18 months. She shared a bit about her love for her new country in her presentation.

“This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for America because it saved my life and my family’s life from the war in my country. In Syria I lost many people from my family because it is not safe,” she said. “If you were in my country and you went for a walk in the street you would think that a bullet is going to come to you and that you could die at any time. So I am really thankful for the United States because it made me feel safe and my dream is coming true every day because I am in a good school.”

Hamo recently recovered from a back surgery and is grateful for that as well.

“The hospitals in Syria are not good enough to help people and the hospitals here are really good. I had back surgery this summer that I would not have been able to get in Syria,” she said. “I have a goal to be a doctor and I know that I can achieve my goal in the United States and I will never get up.”

Rosanni Toribio has been in the United States for just three months, moving here from the Dominican Republic.

“This is my first Thanksgiving, I am so excited,” she said. “I am here with my step-mom and my sisters and I miss my mom and my city a lot. The biggest difference here is that my school is bigger here, and I have more opportunities here. I love learning the English language.”

As Jennifer Santana Navarro, also from the Dominican Republic, readies for her second Thanksgiving celebration, she is most thankful for her education and for the strong values she’s been taught.

“My favorite parts of school are my teachers and my friends,” she said. “I have a good education and my friends love me and take care of me.”

Being cared for by others is something that Ryan Gonzalez is thankful for also. He has moved here from the Dominican Republic as well.

“I am thankful for having a good upbringing because since I was small my parents told me to grow up to be somebody in life and stay away from trouble, but since I had them by my side nothing bad has come my way,” he said. “My dad works hard to make us have a good future, and not everyone gets to have the chance that I have.”

 Abdul Al-Tarazi has been in the United States for less than six months and is very excited for this week’s Thanksgiving holiday.

“My education and my life here are very good,” he said. “I am thankful for America because of the freedom and for the good studies. The main reason why my family and I moved from Kuwait to here is for studies. America is one of the best countries for education. I thank God for this beautiful country.”

Leaving friends and family behind and settling into life here in America, in Cranston, was hard for Al-Tarazi, and his sentiments were echoed by many of his peers who were missing loved ones who stayed behind in their native countries.

“It was sad to leave all my family, but I always hope that one day they will come. My friends were sad, but I always thank God for this life,” he said. “One day I wish to visit them. At first it was a little hard for us to live because we did not know anyone, but over the time we have started to know people.”

Reflecting on the stories shared by the students on Tuesday, Superintendent Nota-Masse is reminded of the proverbial reason for the season.

“Each year that I attend this Thanksgiving luncheon, I am reminded of all the blessings that we have in this country. When I hear the stories and see the children who have come from many different countries, I realized how fortunate we are in America, and especially Cranston,” she said. “I realize our country is not perfect, but listening to the stories of how and why some of these children came to this country underscores my appreciation for all of the good things America has to offer.”

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