Teacher honors English-language learners

Ola Esmail and Kathleen Scully.

[Photo by CHUH staff]

Ola Esmail learned a new English word recently: bittersweet, referring to leaving high school and a beloved teacher.

“I felt so happy when Ms. Scully came to visit me at my house,” said the 2020 Heights High graduate who came to the United States as a refugee from Yemen. “But I also feel sad because I might not see her again.”

Kathleen Scully feels the same way. The Heights High teacher of English Language (EL) was so impressed by the accomplishments of her four graduating seniors that she drove from Summit County to personally visit their homes, deliver gifts, and express her pride in their accomplishments.

Scully teaches EL in grades 9–12. Her students speak as many as 14 different languages. She has worked with the students in a variety of capacities during their high school years, serving as their teacher, helping them with other coursework, coordinating their schedules, and connecting them to necessary support services.

Anjana Rai, Susmita Biswa and Anisha Pradhan came to Cleveland Heights as elementary or middle school students, after living in refugee camps along the border of Nepal and Bhutan. 

Speaking for her friends, Rai said, “When I first came, it was so hard and so new. We had to get used to the neighborhood and school and society. We didn't know we would get to this point where we could speak so freely and casually.”

“We are really thankful to Ms. Scully,” said Pradhan, “and to our EL teachers at Noble and Monticello.”

The girls have openly shared their Nepalese background with their classmates, creating Himalayan prayer flags in the MakerSpace, and performing a traditional dance in the high school talent show. The three even volunteer to teach English to adults at the Noble Neighborhood Library. 

While Rai, Biswa and Pradhan usually speak Nepali to each other, Ola Esmail’s native tongue is Arabic. After more than four years in an Ethiopian refugee camp with no school, she came to the U.S. at the age of 16 and was placed in ninth grade. She spoke no English.

“I was so nervous,” she said of her first year at Heights. “I struggled a lot. Even in 10th grade, I needed to ask my neighbors for help. But I had Ms. Scully all along.”

When times were tough, Esmail would remember the years when she had no access to education. “I made a goal to not miss even one day of school," she said. "I did not want to lose more years than what I have lost in the past.”

Esmail recently received the Heights School Foundation’s Career Technical Education Scholarship for her achievements in the Clinical Nursing Program. She plans to attend Cleveland State University (CSU) in the fall to study premed. Her dream is to become a hematologist. 

Rai, Biswa and Pradhan plan to attend college as well. “We are still in the process of learning,” said Rai, who will join Esmail at CSU to study biotech.

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, a graduate of the Heights schools and a former Coventry School teacher. She is a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District.

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Volume 13, Issue 7, Posted 10:31 AM, 07.03.2020