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First Day Jitters of a Different Kind

August 19, 2019

By Ambriehl Crutchfield

An 8-year-old Guatemalan boy is heading into his first day of American school in Cincinnati Monday. José has been in the U.S. since early July after a month's journey and staying in a detention camp.

José's mom Evaline says a gang was extorting her convenience store in Guatemala, which pushed them to flee. WVXU isn't using the family's real names to protect their identity.

"One of the biggest things is making sure they feel comfortable. They have experienced a lot of trauma," says Carmen Hayes, LEAP Academy's English Language Learner teacher. "Recently, I've found that what's going on at the border is really happening to our students."

Hayes says after making sure the student is comfortable, she starts working on basic English, which can be easier depending on the child's ability to read and write in their first language.

Evaline and José left Guatemala in early June and figured out they were coming to Cincinnati while in a detention camp in Mexico. After leaving the camp, Evaline says it took them hours to cross the desert. They came to the Cincinnati area on July 5 only knowing a friend-of-a-friend. After living in poor housing conditions, Evaline was forced to relocate again.

A Cincinnati immigrant advocate began looking for someone local who could host Evaline and José. East Price Hill resident Pamela Taylor opened her home to them and has been helping the family get on their feet.

"I worry a lot about the language barriers because he speaks a little bit of English but barely any and he's very shy to talk in English," Taylor says.

José is going to LEAP Academy for third grade, where, according to data from Cincinnati Public Schools, 88.2% of students qualify as English Language Learners (ELL).

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