Unique grads ‘moving up’ after English immersion ceremony

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, May 23, 2024

By MICHAEL J. COLLINS, Bowling Green Daily News

Teranga Academy, an English immersion program formed between Bowling Green Independent Schools and Fugees Family Inc., celebrated its “moving-up” ceremony on Wednesday.

A community of students and families from around the globe cheered as 10 students officially transitioned to traditional schooling and five graduated high school outright.

“Even though it’s sad to think about them leaving, of course I’m so excited for their next steps,” Principal Kristi Costellow said.

Students each prepared remarks and spoke before the crowded gymnasium, in part highlighting how far they have come in their English proficiency. They came from as far as Tanzania, Burundi, Afghanistan and beyond, yet each shared how they found a new family between Teranga’s walls.

One student, Furahisha Jerry, was born in Tanzania but is Congolese. Jerry’s family fled war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and eventually made their way to Bowling Green.

Jerry told the crowd he originally struggled at Bowling Green Junior High. In his words, he “had 0.0 IQ of English.”

“I stayed there for three years with not much success, especially for English class, so my parents decided to transfer me to a brand new school which is Teranga, a place that they believed can develop my English,” Jerry said. “But still, English was a big challenge for me. With the help of Teranga, I overcame it in a strong and resilient way.”

Katherine Fernandez, born in Honduras, said Teranga not only helped her and her classmates “be persevering, honest and hard workers,” but also gave them the skills they need to continue their success in the United States.

She recalled her time at Dishman-McGinnis Elementary where she struggled socializing with peers. She remembered how “complicated” it was to simply ask to use the restroom.

“And now, as I stand here giving you a speech, I feel prepared to start a new chapter in my life,” Fernandez said. “Just remember that you are a valuable person and can do wonderful things in life. When things get difficult, remember that hard work pays off.

“Even if you feel like giving up, know that your determination can inspire others. Never stop moving forward and keep in mind the influence and importance you have on others.”

Costellow said whether graduates move off to college or go into the workforce, she knows each is “leaving with what they need for the next step.”

She added she is hopeful students transitioning to Bowling Green High School are confident in their ability to perform alongside their peers and build relationships using their newfound language.

An additional 79 students advanced to higher coursework levels, often equivalent to completing two to three years of traditional school instruction in as little as a semester.

The goal of Teranga ultimately is to prepare relatively new students – often lacking formal education or English skills – for traditional schooling within three years.

They began with around 90 students their first year, Costellow said, and now oversee around 170 at the end of their second.

Instruction is highly individualized to meet each student’s needs. Some students may complete all three coursework levels in as little as a year and a half and many travel to BGHS for additional instruction.

“When you were trying to teach grade-level content, you have students who have missed sometimes years of education in their home country just because of life circumstances,” Costellow said. “Bringing those students here and being able to give them the education and content that they need at the level that they’re currently working on is what’s helping them make those gains so quickly.”

Part of that, she said, involves creating strong, close bonds between both teachers and students, regardless of where they hail from.

That sense of community was hard to miss on Wednesday.

“We have a lot of structures built in place so that students do feel like they are a part of something,” Costellow said. “And that’s the hope – that we’re all working together and we’re in it together.”

— Follow education reporter and Report for America corps member Michael J. Collins on X.com @MJCollinsNews or visit bgdailynews.com.