It’s no secret that Houston has some of the largest high schools around, some housing over 3,500 kids on a single campus. So, for new students who have just arrived from a different country, it can be very overwhelming. Some of these obstacles include: not having any friends, not knowing the American culture, and the most daunting of them all, not knowing English. With the influx of international students enrolling in schools all over Houston Independent School District, one special teacher has created a program to ease this transition. A helping hand is what “The Westside Ambassadors Club” is all about.
Edith Gonzalez has been teaching at Westside High School for seven years now, and her students all agree that she is an extraordinary individual with a big heart. Student Omar Yozbaki, a junior from Iraq said, “At first I had a hard time adjusting to a new school, then my friend introduced me to Mrs. Gonzalez, and my worries disappeared.”
With Gonzalez’s guidance she introduces new students and pairs them up with a “buddy”. For the first semester a newcomer student has a friend to assist them with checking out their books, introducing them to their teachers, helping them locate the classrooms, getting their locker and ID, taking them to lunch so they have someone to eat with, and assisting them with homework. Basically, everything that can make their transition easier, with one goal in mind: success.
The club’s motto is one that they truly follow, “Individually unique, together complete.” The club is also involved in providing daily tutorial sessions during lunch. The junior and senior students provide peer support and assistance to the younger students with their homework assignments, projects and reviews for tests.
These English as a Second Language (ESL), students arrive from all over the world, and their educational journey is one they take seriously. Their mission is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote “Be the change you want in the world.” With change comes challenge, and rigorous work. For some students, they work extremely hard, completing extra courses at Houston Community College, just to learn English. Angolan native Gabriel Lubongo states, “Coming to school in the United States is really a new experience, double the school work, but so helpful.” Many of these students also do internships through various organizations such as Genesys Works, while others volunteer at local hospitals. They all have one common denominator, “We are really blessed and grateful to have Mrs. Gonzalez’s help” said Ana Gonzalez.
As for Mrs. Gonzalez, she states that “Seeing these kids lights me up every day. Knowing you make a difference in life, you show up every day. Our goal is to succeed and that they succeed, that’s our payoff.”
The Newcomers Program is clearly a positive step in the right direction for the community of Houston. Many of these students have goals to continue onto their future endeavors and sustain the cycle of helping others who need it.