Historic first: Two Belmont valedictorians part of ESL program
May 16, 2012
Contact: Jill Moberley, Public Information Officer
For Immediate Release
It’s a year of firsts at Belmont High School: First year in a new school building. First time graduation will be held in the new school gymnasium. First time for co-valedictorians.
Another one of the school’s distinctions is also a district first: The co-valedictorians are both foreign-born students. Daniel Molina and Vanessa Ishimwe came to the United States less than five years ago, and each knew little to no English. Fast forward to today, where both are top students at a school with a burgeoning English as a Second Language (ESL) population.
Molina and Ishimwe will present their valedictorian speeches together – with portions done in their native languages – as the Belmont High School Class of 2012 graduates this Saturday, May 19, beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the school (2615 Wayne Ave.)
“These kids have been so successful, and that says a lot about Dayton Public Schools, about reaching out and being accommodating,” Belmont ESL teacher Diane Cline said. “Immigrants have made Dayton a better place.”
The growth of immigrant residents in Dayton is reflected at Belmont, which has seen a spike in the number of ESL students it serves. In less than five years, the school went from having six ESL students, to more than 90 this school year. The school’s ethnic makeup includes at least 13 countries outside of the United States, with more than 15 foreign languages, including Spanish, Urdu, Swahili, Turkish and Kirundi.
Vanessa Ishimwe’s journey to Belmont began four years ago, when her family fled genocide in Togo and emigrated to the U.S. She recalls how it was hard coming to a country where you don’t know anyone, and having to rapidly learn a new language: Although Ishimwe knew three languages previously, English was not one of them.
Joining Belmont’s ESL program was a big help in adapting.
“It was an opportunity to meet great people from other countries,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Ishimwe loves math and numbers, and plans to major in finance upon graduation. Her brother, Fabrice Mugisha, will also graduate from Belmont this year.
“I miss home, but I knew I’d have to adjust,” she says about life in Dayton, noting she likes the city because of its mid-size urban feeling.
Along with his mother and brothers, Daniel Molina came to Dayton from Mexico three years ago. He also said learning English was difficult, but he was determined to put in the effort.
Participating in the school’s ESL program was a big help in becoming acclimated. Molina dug into his studies, including math (which he loves), and joined the school soccer team.
“I like learning about other people, how to get along with others, and making new friends,” he said.
Becoming school valedictorian was never a goal, but he’s excited and nervous about giving a commencement speech. His mom, he said, cried when she learned of his accomplishment.
“Never give up, not even if you don’t know the language,” he said when asked for his advice to younger ESL students. “Keep trying, and be the best you can be.”