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Henry Thach, a 10th-grade student at Highline High School in Seattle.
Henry Thach, a 10th-grade student at Highline High School in Seattle. Credit: Magdalena Slapik for The Hechinger Report

Did you face any challenges when you began attending school in the United States?

I was born in Vietnam. When I came here I was in middle school: sixth grade. I speak two other languages: Khmer and Vietnamese. I was put in regular classes. I was lucky to have a teacher that speaks the same language as me. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was pretty confused, like, “Why am I here? These kids — what are they saying?” The difficulties I faced were school, the language and not knowing what to do. It’s kind of difficult keeping up with three languages. You just don’t understand. You feel lost.

I am in 10th grade. This year, during the first two weeks of school, I was in ELL classes. Then, Ms. Hinderlie, she emailed my counselor and said, “Hey. I don’t think this kid needs ELL classes anymore. I think he’s ready to go.” Then, my counselor talked to me a little bit, and she transferred me out to engineering since I told her that I liked learning how things work and designing things.

What do you plan on doing after you graduate from high school?

My grandpa was the general of the Cambodian army. I was planning to go in the army right after I graduate. I’m thinking of taking classes when they start next year for criminal justice, seeing how things go. If I have the opportunity to go to college, then I will probably go to a college that has a program that lets you go into the army.

How would you describe the students at your school?

To be honest with you, the students, some of them are really nice, some of them just don’t even want to talk to you. We have a lot of immigrant students. Mostly, I think they’re poorer, because if they were middle class, they would choose to go to a different school than Highline. Highline hasn’t been rebuilt for a while, so it’s pretty old. We got moles, squirrels, rats everywhere. Some places are really hot, like, rooms that can’t turn off the heat. Other rooms you can’t turn it on. The technology, the computers, they’re probably more than 12 years old. The library is old — and it kind of stinks. Since I don’t have the opportunity to go to another school, I have no choice.

What makes your school unique?

One thing at school that’s unique is the club IRC, which stands for International Rescue Committee. My freshman year I started going to meetings every Thursday. We share stories of where we’re from, how we got here, and stuff like that. When we share stories, some people are crying, because some people lost their family members, some of them lost their homes. The process of coming to the United States and what they faced was pretty sad. People feel like this country is where they don’t belong, but they came here for a reason. Not for making the country worse. They came here for a better life and better opportunities.

I think I’m the lucky one. Most people don’t have the opportunity to come here. If I wouldn’t have been here, I would probably be dead already. In Vietnam, I was a farmer. I was basically going hunting all night, or going fishing to just get food. I didn’t go to school at all. There’s plenty of food, it’s just that you gotta work for it. That’s the only way to survive.

What is one thing your school could do better?

 One thing that I think can be improved is to stop the fights. Usually we have fights around school. Sometimes we have kids and, like, strangers — they’re like 30 years old — come in to the school. We have security, but they’re not really paying attention to different places.

Who is your favorite teacher and why?

Our supervisor for IRC. She used to be in Highline, but she moved. She was a teacher; now she’s a support teacher. She’s the best. She’s funny, she listens to us, she gives us ideas on what we should do and she gives us feedback on what we think and the steps that we need to do.

Henry Thach was interviewed on 11/12/16. Student interviews were carried out during the 2015-2016, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. Posted grade levels are the grade the students were in when they were interviewed.

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