Most of Victorya Rouse’s students have endured hardships that many American-born students could not comprehend.
Bosnian students have smiled at Rouse and said, “’Hey, no one’s shooting at me,’” Rouse said.
For almost 30 years, Rouse has taught English at Ferris High School to teenage immigrants who left behind war and other difficulties for the American Dream. Rouse spoke to a crowd of 100 masked guests Tuesday night as part of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages book club event.
Rouse helps the students, some with English-speaking experience and others who don’t know a word in the language, develop English skills in her classroom, then they return to the general student population.
With multiple languages and levels of prior education, there are many hurdles to overcome, she said.
“We do work really hard, but it’s like the best job ever because the world comes to us and we get to help them learn something that they really need to know, and it makes a lasting impact on their lives,” Rouse said.
Understanding the students’ backgrounds is one hurdle.
Rouse described a story in which a student from Congo ran and hid after a school staff member blew a whistle on the playground, signaling students to return to the classroom from recess.
Staff members thought the student was misbehaving, but the sound of a whistle in the student’s home country meant to seek a hiding place because bad guys were coming. The student thought his life was in danger, Rouse said.
As part of her class, Rouse asks her students to write their “coming to America stories,” in which they narrate, in English, their journey to the United States. She compiled and edited those stories to form a new book called, “Finding Refuge: Real-Life Immigrant Stories from Young People.”
The book includes accounts of difficulties and suffering in the students’ home countries, but also how the students established new lives in America.
The students come from places all over the globe, especially from countries – like Congo, Rwanda and Iraq – that have experienced recent conflict. Rouse said if there is a war impacting families, those families need to go somewhere, and many of those children end up in Spokane.
“If you saw it in the news, probably those kids will be ending up here,” she said.
Rouse said many Spokane residents don’t recognize refugees, but they are here. She said extending a hand to refugees in the community could make their lives so much better.
“Welcome to the community,” Rouse suggested the audience members say. “We’re glad you’re here.”
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