PO Box 422 Waukee, IA 50263

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©2019 Iowa Student Learning Institute

IowaSLI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit

Meet the Team

Ari Ruiz

In Mexico, I went to school that was not as nice as America. I was in a classroom with no desks, except for the teacher’s desk. When I got here in 2009, my first teacher was mean. She wanted me to already know everything. I wanted to listen and understand, but I couldn't. In Mexico, I used to be very smart and always get honors certificates. But when I came here, I got an F for first time ever, and it was very hard to feel that I had failed. It's a feeling I can't explain. After a few months at that school, my family moved to the West Des Moines school district. I started talking to people, and finally I started to learn. Very thankful for moving and for my first ESL teacher that actually helped me. It was very difficult when I first came to America, but I grew a lot from it. You need to take experiences and make them positive. ​

Stephen Wonbenyakeh Jr.

When it comes to education and learning here, it is much different than in my country. I came to the US through a program called Diversity Visa, which is through the embassy in my country. I started school on Friday, and it was very difficult for me. In my home country, we don’t have books and computers and other resources. The way that teachers approaches you and the relationships between you and your teachers is different. In my first class at Valley, my teacher gave me a warm welcome and introduced me to everybody, and gave me a great big smile.

But the first four weeks at Valley are what I call my hell. People were not nice, and they did not say hello in the hall. I felt very alone. The main point I’m driving at is that you need to get to know your ESL students and find their strengths and weaknesses. You can’t treat them the same way, and you need to slow down and make sure the students understands. Get everything you are trying to get the student to understand in the student’s native language. It was a very difficult experience, but I grew a lot because of it.

Amos Van

Before I came to America, I lived in Myanmar. Before 2010, it was very bad in Malaysia. The teenagers that live there have to take care of younger siblings and work all at the same time. They also have to face soldiers. In 2008, my parents moved us to Malaysia, and last year we came to the US. On my first day of school I was so nervous. I thought I was in the wrong place for the bus, so I walked around the block, then looked at my bus card again, and went back to where I was. Then I saw the bus way up the street, so I ran as fast as I could towards it because I thought I had missed it. When I got to school had no idea where to go. My ESL teacher gave me a big hug and acted like she was my grandma or something, and introduced me to all of my classes and asked students to help me. She also talked to my teachers to make sure they looked out for me and always made sure I understand. Because usually I don’t raise my hand, they help check up on me.

Gerardo Nava Vasquez

​Gerardo came to America 1 ½ years ago. His first month was not enjoyable and the first day of school was horrible for him - he got lost, didn’t know anyone, and everything was new to him. He went home and told his mom he wanted to go back to Mexico. He was excited for coming to a new country, but was sad at the same time because left family and friends behind. In the brief time he has been in America, he has made friends with both ESL and non-ESL students at North High School in Sioux City. He is fast on his way to becoming a fluent speaker and thankful for being able to share his voice.

Steven Rubio Perez

Steven came to America with his brother, Cristian, and his Grandma in October of 2015. They started to have problems in Ecuador - they had a restaurant there and another business for 5 years before moving. Once they moved his grandma was very insecure. She could walk to get a bus alone here, but could not have done that before of dangerous people in Ecuador. He adjusted to school by following what other Latinos did. There is not a lot of homework at North High in Sioux City compared to in Ecuador. So much so that his grandma would threaten to call the school to make sure he was not lying to her or not doing his work. When his mom came later, she did the same thing. It was hard to not have friends at the beginning, but there is support from people in the same situation that helped him out.

Christian Rubio Perez

Cristian came to America with his brother, Steven, and his Grandma in October of 2015. They started to have problems in Ecuador - they had a restaurant there and another business for 5 years before moving. My first day of school I was scared about finding my way around school and making friends. There were friends that helped me get where I needed to go for my classes and the teachers were helpful. My first day of school was two days before my birthday. Everyone at school said Happy Birthday but my family forgot about it.

Learn more about the ESL Team

IowaSLI works hard to ensure all of Iowa's voices are represented. To make sure you're able to share your voice, we've put together a set of resources for you to use.