Few holidays evoke the level of yearning for one’s family than Thanksgiving, which turned out to be a very poignant theme at Bain Middle School’s annual Thanksgiving celebration on Nov. 26, presented by and for the school’s ELL student population.
The Thanksgiving celebration provides a showcase for seventh- and eighth-grade students who have learned to both read and write in English, and have developed the skills and confidence necessary to present their work aloud.
Coming from countries all around the world – including India, China, Portugal, Guatemala, Haiti and the Dominican Republic – this year’s participants proved they had important stories to tell.
In the presence of school administrators, as well as the district’s superintendent and assistant superintendent, 12 students spoke about their respective journeys to America, and, subsequently, the things for which they are now most grateful.
Eighth-grade emcees Rattan Than from Cambodia and Ernelys Almonte from the Dominican Republic introduced each participating student, first with a parade of handmade flags from the students’ home countries, and later personal essays recounting each student’s journey to the United States.
Seventh-grader Camila Nunez, a native of the Dominican Republic, noted: “When I came here, I went to New York and I was surprised because in my country the streets had a lot of trash, and here there’s no trash. In my country you don’t have electricity all the time, and here you have electricity all the time.” The points of her essay, echoed by several other ELL students, highlighted that the consistent availability of amenities such as clean water, streets and electricity had impacted them greatly.
Eighth-grader Efrin Reynoso, also a native of the Dominican Republic, noted: “The benefit of being here is that my dad earns more money at his job. We also have more things here. I think that moving here was a good decision because I have learned another language and I have more opportunities.”
Despite the rosy outlook of many of the essays, when the students discussed their experiences candidly, many expressed the deep sadness of separation from the parents, siblings or other family members they were forced to leave behind. Some explained they were able to visit their families, while others said they did not know whether or when next they would see their loved ones.
Perhaps the most emotional essay of the morning was written by Bryant Rodriguez, an eighth-grader and native of Guatemala, who recounted his family’s emptying his bedroom of his belongings to sell in order to afford the trip to America.
“I saw a lot of people in my room,” he remembered. “They were taking my stuff away and my mom didn’t want me to go to my room because she didn’t want me to see what they were doing.”
During Rodriguez’s presentation, some of the crowd was moved to tears.
Seventh-grader Sebastien Louis, a native of Haiti, added a bit of levity to the hour, ending his essay by saying: “Now I am having a good life. I feel safe and happy. Even though I still miss my country, I feel a lot better … I totally love America!”
A traditional Thanksgiving feast – prepared by Career and Technical students at Cranston West, and including desserts donated by both Solitro’s and Calvitto’s Bakeries – followed the speaking program, with teachers and administrators as the guests of honor.
Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Massa noted she’s been attending the presentation for the past seven or eight years. She said she truly looks forward to this event each year.
“You get to hear directly from the kids about their experiences,” she said, “and how much they value coming to the U.S., and being with their families. You really get to appreciate the journey their families have made to get here. It really just gives us pause to reflect on how important it is for us to have a school that welcomes them … I just really love seeing the kids enjoy this American holiday.”
For some Bain ELL students, only having been in America for a matter of weeks, this was their first experience with any holiday in the United States.