By Duong-Nghe Ly
My parents struggled for years to bring me and my brother to the United States, hoping we would get a great education in this country. They never thought we would have to fight for it.
I'm one of many students who have been organizing against the anti-Asian, anti-immigrant violence at South Philadelphia High School. Over the past year, my classmates and I have worked to overcome school violence and the school district's irresponsibility and indifference. We have raised awareness about racial violence and stereotyping in Philadelphia and nationwide.
I am excited to begin a new school year this week. I am ready to help build a new and positive climate. And I am hopeful about our new principal.
But much needs to be done to tackle the problems at my school. Here are the areas that need improvement:
Dealing with school staff: My classmates and I are thankful for the many teachers and other staff members who supported us last year. However, there are still some staff members who felt free to show racism and disrespect toward Asian immigrant students. Certain staff members mimicked our accents, ignored our concerns when students were attacked at school, and showed a lack of understanding. We saw problems in the administration and the nonteaching staff.
The school district says it has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior among students. It must show that the same goes for the staff.
Communicating with families: All families deserve to know what happens at their children's school. After the attacks at South Philadelphia High in December, the school made no effort to reach out to the families of the victims - no phone calls to see if the students were OK, no explanation of what had happened, no expressions of concern in a language immigrant parents could understand. The only calls our families got made threats about our "illegal absences" during the boycott, even though we had the district's permission to stay out of school.
The school must change the way it communicates with immigrant students and their parents. It must provide more multilingual staff who are sensitive to the concerns of immigrants. And it must translate documents into different languages for families.
Building dialogue: Stereotypes and misunderstandings at my school contribute to violence. Last year, the principal was afraid of honest dialogue among students. There were few opportunities to talk about the violence many students experience and the harassment of Asian immigrant students.
This year, I hope the school will give students of different races a chance to safely communicate and eliminate misunderstandings. We need to hear about the experiences of everyone at the school, even if their languages and accents are different. We need to honor the heritage of students. We need ethnic and immigrant studies to help students understand the history and contributions of all races.
Partnering with students: In the past year, immigrant students have not tried to pit one group against another. We have said the school and the district have to keep everyone safe regardless of race or language. We have worked with students of all races all over the city to create a "Stop the Violence" campaign.
Last year, the district treated us as if we were enemies, but we are not. We are its partners. We hope the school and the district will finally see us that way this year.
We immigrant students gave up everything in our countries to come to the United States, hoping for a good education and a better future. Getting a good education in a safe school should be a right, not a privilege. We never thought we would have to fight for that right, but we are glad we did.