The story of Divine Tsasa

Submitted by Rejane McCorkel, ELL teacher, Francis Hammond Middle School, Alexandria City Public Schools, Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Drive. Divine Tsasa had the drive to make the U.S. her new home and succeed in this new environment.

It was September 2013 when I met Divine. She was shy and quiet. She looked afraid and uncertain how to navigate her new school. She didn't speak a word of English. To help her, I often had to dust off my poor French so she could engage with her peers and assignments.

That year, Divine was placed in a cohort of co-taught classes in which she had a content and an ESL teacher available for all content-areas. She was also enrolled in a reading class for extra support. By second quarter, Divine was starting to make her first sentences. Despite her shyness, she would raise her hand and participate regardless of her lack of proficiency. She would also ask teachers for after school tutoring sessions. A dictionary was now her new friend and whenever she wanted to know a word or two, she would open it up. She was determined to do her best.

In June 2014 we received our students' WIDA scores. In just a year, Divine moved from Level 1 to Level 3.9. Her grades were all A's. Even though she didn't think of it herself, her teachers encouraged her to take honors classes. Her reply? I want to improve my English. It isn't good enough.

We're now waving good-bye to Divine as she moves to another school in our district for ninth grade. As of just last month, we learned she exited the ELL program.That's right. In just 2 years, she went from Level 1 to Level 6 according to the WIDA scale of proficiency.

When I asked her what helped her succeed, her answer was "My teachers." She also explained that in her home country of Malta, she would have never had so many opportunities."I got hooked on books, on the challenges my teachers offered me. But most of all, I just wanted to be the best I possibly could."