Miami Palmetto High School Senior Sarah Khan teaches conversational English to underprivileged immigrants in Homestead.
She started this past summer, after her mom told her about hiring a worker who couldn’t speak English for the family construction site.
“My uncle works there too, he owns the place,” Khan says. “My uncle said, ‘all these workers, I can’t talk to them because I can only speak English’.”
When her mom was telling her about the situation, Khan suggested they should teach them English. They talked to the worker and he in turn asked his pastor at La Iglesia Roca Fuerte if anyone else in the church was interested in learning English.
An announcement was made and they started with 30 students, about double what Khan had expected. The classes are every Saturday night for 90-minutes. Khan’s mom and cousins help her teach the class.
“We separate the group into three different groups,” she says. “We have Advanced, where my oldest cousin takes charge, I’m in charge of Beginners and my other cousin is in charge of Intermediate.”
The program is important to Khan because she comes from a family of immigrants.
“On my mother’s side, my grandma is from El Salvador,” she says. “My mom grew up in the states, and took advantage of the education here, but it was impossible for my grandmother.”
Most of the students already know the basics, but they struggle with speaking English. The goal is to help them be able to converse comfortably and help them recognize the need to climb the educational ladder.
She writes the lesson plans based on lessons she’s seen online and from her experience from her previous Spanish classes.
“I translate vocabulary from English to Spanish and incorporate the vocabulary into situational prompts,” she says.
Likewise her goal is to enroll each student into evening English classes with the help of her community before she goes off to college.
Khan spoke only English with her dad and Spanish with her mom. When the family was all together, they spoke mostly English.
Growing up, Khan was not at all confident speaking Spanish until she went to a language middle school, which helped take away her fear.
“I felt like these students felt,” she says.
Through technology, she plans to stream the English classes.
Her volunteer work includes a summer at Shake-A-Leg, the Coconut Grove based program that teaches handicapped and underprivileged children water sports.
She worked with the regular kids. She and the children kayaked, sailed and learned science. They also did arts and crafts, went swimming and fishing.
She’s also volunteered at the Miami Open. She loved watching tennis because she used to play so she enjoyed the week she spent working the tournament.
Last year, Khan was a photographer on the yearbook staff at Palmetto.
“Photography was something I was interested in and so was journalism,” she says. “It improved my social skills and my photography skills.”
Being on staff also helped her integrate into Palmetto. She’d attended Coral Reef the first two years of high school but withdrew because she was supposed to move to California with her father. However, when those plans fell through, she enrolled in Palmetto.
Her plan now is to go to college in California, so she’s applying to all the California state universities. Her top colleges are USC and UCLA. She wants to major in civil engineering and work for transportation companies.
Her interest in transportation grew after she attended the University Miami National Summer Transportation Institute program which taught the students how transportation works in Miami.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld