Multilingual push helps Brentwood students with native language and English
At school, Anmar Alsaadi speaks in English as he converses with his peers.
Yet at home, Alsaadi, 15, is allowed to speak only in his native Arabic language.
“It's so we don't forget,” said Alsaadi, a sophomore at Brentwood High School, whose family moved to the United States from Amman, Jordan, five years ago. “We should be proud of our language.”
At Brentwood Middle/High School, there are 30 students enrolled in English as a Second Language classes this year, said teacher Katie Kostuch, who works for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and is contracted through the Brentwood Borough School District.
Most of the students are natives of Nepal, whose families come from Bhutan, while others are from Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Colombia and Guatemala. Some come to the United States with no English- speaking skills.
This summer, while she studied for her reading specialist certification, Kostuch said she began thinking about reading materials students speaking English as their second language had at Brentwood. That was when she decided to create a library for them with books in their native languages as well as English that would be hosted in her classroom.
“There's not a lot of books in their languages and there's really not a lot of books that are about kids like them,” she said.
Kostuch launched a fundraiser on DonorsChoose.org. Within two days, she had funding for 141 books, four audio CD books, an area rug and seat cushions.
Her initial goal to raise $811 was exceeded by $244, which allowed her to purchase more books and accessories for the new library. The Brentwood Middle School PTSS donated $250 toward the library.
The majority of the books are in English, Spanish, Arabic and Nepali. She also purchased books is Korean and Russian.
“I just hope it makes them feel excited about reading and that reading is now accessible for them,” Kostuch said of the students.
She explained to them that the books were donated through money from strangers — people in the community who don't even know them. She hopes this makes them feel welcome in their new country, she said.
Alsaadi borrowed a copy of “The Hunger Games” in Arabic. He already had read the book in English, but said he's excited to read it in his native language.
Some students said they began to learn English in school in their native countries, but it's important to them to always remember their native language.
“It's what you were born with,” said Saroj Gurung, 14, a Brentwood freshman whose family moved to Pittsburgh nearly seven years ago from a refugee camp in Nepal.
He joked that maybe the books would help him relearn his old language.
Heran Pradhan, 14, a Brentwood freshman, whose family moved to the United States about 2 1⁄2 years ago from a refugee camp in Nepal, said he hopes to someday be able to read more languages of the books than his native Nepali and English.
Still, for the students, learning to read in English is important, too. They need it for school and, it makes them feel like they fit in.
“It makes you feel like you're in it, you're here, you're not from the outside,” said Shashak Gurung, 15, a Brentwood sophomore whose family moved to the United States in the last five years after living in a refugee camp in Nepal.
He still remembers how to read in his native language.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.