Telling Our Stories: ELL students share their journeys through art

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MANCHESTER, NH – “Julia” was 14 years old when she accompanied her father on a long journey from their native Brazil to the United States.  

Yesterday, she and more than 50 other English Learner students from Manchester High School West and Hillside Middle School shared their stories in art books they worked on over the past three months. The presentation was held in the Aldermanic chambers at City Hall.

Julia’s Journey to America, past the “rusty gray border fence.”  Photographed by Pat Grossmith.

Julia’s journey took her and her dad by airplane from Brazil to Mexico City.  Once in Mexico, they had to walk for about 15 minutes in the desert.

The teenager wrote that she “felt scared and nervous.  I needed to pass through a large and rusty gray border fence.

The weather was warm but I felt the hot air the sky was nice, a light blue and shining sun.  I was with my dad, a woman, and her baby. I carried a water bottle with me. After I crossed, the police caught us in the car, and then they brought (us) to immigration to identify us, and after this they let us go.”

Manchester = Home: “My family that already live here picked me up in a car and I saw a copper orange and bright yellow sunset.” – Art by Julia, Photographed by Pat Grossmith

Later, they took another plane that brought them to Manchester, their new home.  “I felt excited that I was finally in America,” she wrote. “My family that already live here picked me up in a car and I saw a copper orange and bright yellow sunset.”

Julia, like many of the other students, knew no English when she arrived in her new country, completely unlike the one she left. Today, nearly two years after arriving in Manchester, the now 16-year-old speaks English fluently.

She easily adapted to her new home but says she still is not used to the cold, having come from a tropical climate.

“Luis” was 16 years old when he left his native El Salvador after his grandfather was murdered.  He made the journey alone, leaving behind his parents and siblings, traveling by car to America. Once in the country, he boarded a plane for the first time, an experience that scared him, he said.

Starry Night: The drawing above illustrates Luis entering his new home in Manchester, where he lives with his aunt and uncle. It is a night drawing because he is up before dawn to go to Manchester High School West and comes home at night after going to work. Photographed by Pat Grossmith

He came to Manchester to live with his aunt and uncle. Now, his day begins and ends in the dark, up before sunrise to head to school and, once classes are done, on to his job.

The students shared their books and stories with Mayor Joyce Craig and members of the Manchester Board of School Committee, including Vice Chairman Arthur Beaudry, Leslie Want, Dan Bergeron, and Jimmy Lehoux.  Barry Brensinger of Manchester Proud also attended the event to offer his congratulations to the students.

The art project was made possible with a grant from New Hampshire Humanities.  Beth Olshansky is the developer of the art-based literacy project featuring her “Image Making Within the Writing Process.”

Each student received a copy of a resolution congratulating them on their “courage and dedication to sharing your story of your journey to the United States.”


Students’ actual names were not used for this story.