In the West African country of Guinea-Conakry, an education
is hard to achieve … especially for girls, who often are pulled from school at
an early age to help their mothers with domestic chores at home or become child
brides. The French-speaking country has one of the highest child marriage rates
in the world.
Aminata S. was able to escape that life and achieve
something nearly impossible many for girls in her home country.
On June 8, 2016, Aminata graduated as valedictorian from
Northwest Community High School.
“I’m so happy and so excited. I did all of this even though
it was hard, but it all paid off because I have scholarships and everything I
need,” said 18-year-old Aminata, a student in the Indianapolis Public Schools English
as a Second Language program. “Now I sit back and think, “Wow, I didn’t do all
of this for nothing. I did it for something, and it’s all paying off.”
With both of her parents already living in Indiana in the
early 2000’s because of her father’s job, Aminata and her older sister, Miriam,
remained in Africa with their grandmother. But in 2012, with pressure mounting
from family members in their country to have the girls quit school, their
grandmother did what she thought best for her granddaughters.
She took them to live with her younger sister in Belgium,
where they could continue their education. After ensuring that the girls were
settled, their grandmother returned to Africa.
Aminata and her sister lived in Belgium for a year before
they were reunited with their parents in Indiana in 2013. But the transition
from Belgium to the United States wasn’t easy.
“From Africa to Belgium, I was excited because they speak
French over there,” said Aminata. “But from Belgium to here, I didn’t know if I
could make it. I thought it was going to be really difficult for us. … We
couldn’t speak any English. They had a French translator for us, who had to go
with us everywhere.”
She often used a dictionary or went to her ESL teachers to
translate everything. In the ESL
program in IPS high schools, students spend one period per day in their ESL
classroom and the other periods in traditional classes (math, science, etc.)
where subjects are taught in English.
“It’s a difficult transition. It really is,” said Mary
Omosegbon, Aminata’s ESL teacher this year at Northwest. “First of all, she is
French by orientation. So when she came here, it was culture shock. When she
went to Belgium, it wasn’t because Belgium is French. So coming here and not
understanding the language and then learning a different teaching system, it’s extremely
confusing. But when I came into her life, I said, ‘Listen. You are here now and
you have to learn what here has to offer, and even do more. You have to rise
above everything else that you’re doing.’”
Omosegbon, who speaks multiple languages, said ESL students
must master four domains (listening, speaking, reading and writing). “They have
to excel in those areas (in the new language).” And that’s simply to understand
There’s also a social transition that must occur, as well.
For children, this can be harder than breaking through a language barrier. It
was for Aminata, until other students found out how gifted she is academically.
“When I first got here, my sister was my only friend, but
after she graduated I was all by myself this year. I could speak English by
then, but I still had some difficulties,” said Aminata. “Nobody wanted to be
friends with me, so I just kept doing my work. But people started coming to me
because I make all A’s. They started coming to me for help, so I made a lot of
friends by the end of this year.”
Simply put, the strides Aminata made academically and
linguistically in such a short amount of time are impressive.
“Her accomplishments are based on her own will and the
support of the teachers. She could have easily fallen off, but the teachers are
there to support,” said Omosegbon. … “If you’re willing to learn, you will get
what you want. She took advantage and we
were all supporting her, every teacher was rooting for her. We root for our
The ESL program has grown tremendously over the past decade,
said ESL Coordinator Jessica Feeser. With more students coming into the
district from a variety of different countries, there are 61 languages spoken
Aminata made many sacrifices to overcome her language
barrier and to become valedictorian of her senior class. The payoff is that
she’s heading to IUPUI in the fall to major in Finance and minor in French. She
plans to become an accountant.
In fact, she was so confident in her college choice that
IUPUI was the only school to which she applied.
“(IUPUI) is a big school and it’s a diverse school and you
get to meet lots of people from other continents and other countries,” said
Aminata. “They really have everything I need to graduate, and the School of
Business is a great program.”
While reveling in the life she currently has and the
accomplishments achieved, Aminata acknowledges that she didn’t do it alone. She
credits her teachers (especially the ESL teachers she’s had over the years) and
her parents for guiding her along the journey, and not allowing her to give up.
Even during her darkest days, when it all seemed too
difficult, she knew she couldn’t quit.
“My mom always taught me not to give up, and my grandmother
… even when we were in Africa, all the girls didn’t have the opportunity to go
to school and my sister and I did, but my grandmother was really serious about
our education. So I had to think about all of that,” said Aminata. “I was like,
‘All of these girls don’t have the opportunity and my grandmother put me in
school and I cannot give up right now. She did all of this for us, and I have
to keep going.’”