To celebrate and explore the potential of student leadership, Teach For All is collecting and sharing stories from across the network and around the globe. When students LEAD, we all LEARN.

Teach For America

Student from Congo welcomes other immigrant students to school in USA

Student Leaders
Neema
Adult Supporter
Julia Solustri
Age of Students
12 years old, grade 7

Please describe how your students exercised their leadership and the impact they had.

Neema is a student in the seventh grade who has been with my school since she came to America in the fifth grade. When she arrived from the Congo she knew little to no English and had barely attended any school. She was shy, scared, and confused when she first arrived. In the two years that I have known Neema, she has blossomed into a strong and confident leader. This school year, we have received an influx of students who emigrated from the Congo, all of whom spoke no English when they arrived. These new students were placed in the same homeroom as Neema in hopes that she would help us teachers if we needed translations. We weren't sure if this was something Neema would be comfortable with but unfortunately we didn't have much of a choice when it came to the language barrier. To our surprise, Neema fit into the leader role more than we could have ever imagined. Not only was she a tremendous help to myself and the other seventh grade teachers but she would translate and coach the new students through the materials. She spent extra time making them feel comfortable and confident in the classroom. She helped introduce them to the other students in the class and translated for everyone. Neema took her role even outside the classroom, helping the new students get involved in activities after school and helping them at home with their homework. She even went as far as to translate for the new students and their families during parent teacher conferences and phone conversations. I have watched the three new students, who stayed silent for the first three weeks they were in my classroom move into confident speakers who can now speak for themselves and are asking for work to do so they can practice their new English skills.

What role did you play in supporting your students’ leadership?

Even though I have only had Neema in my classroom for one year, I have known her as a student for two years now. She was a student in the cooking club that I ran at my school last year. When I first met her she was timid and didn't speak to many of the other students in the club even though they were from her homeroom class. I started to wonder why she hadn't formed close friendships with anyone in the class. Each week I would pass out the recipes and the ingredients and I started to notice that Neema enjoyed helping me pass everything out. I decided to take advantage of that. Each week when she passed out the materials, she became more and more confident in speaking with everyone in the club until one day I saw her working with a group and she was the one reading the recipe and telling the other students what to do. After the club that day I pulled her aside and thanked her for all the help she has given me over the past couple of weeks and told her how proud I was of her that she was able to lead her group that morning. The following week I could see the change in Neema's demeanor and how she approached all of the students in the club. I also noticed that the comfort level and relationship she had with me had changed. She felt welcome and comfortable in the club now and I knew that if given time and if she was put in the right position she could be a good leader.

What did you and your students learn in this activity that will endure beyond today?

I believe that all of the students who watched Neema grow into her leadership position have learned not just how to be leaders but that it is a learned ability. Not everyone is a natural born leader and that is okay. I encourage all of my students every day to try to lead by example for the younger students in our school and for their younger siblings but I have found that many of my students don't have many role models to look up to themselves. For the students who were a part of Neema's journey, I believe that they feel more confident in going outside of their comfort zone and trying to lead in different situations, whether it is in or outside of school.