At Philip G. Coburn Elementary School in West Springfield, Massachusetts, students come from all over the world. Most of the English language learners there arrive as refugees.
Inside an English language learning classroom, second graders were learning English along with math.
“If I have halves, I have two equal parts," teacher Steph Duggan said to her class. "I have two parts that are the same size.”
Duggan used words, drawings, and hand signals to describe math vocabulary. The children watched, listened, repeated — and then explained the concepts to each other.
Working with one student was teacher’s aide Sara Almoula, who was once a refugee student herself.
"I’m from Iraq and I came with no English," Almoula said.
Almoula’s father worked as a translator for the American military in Mosul. But it became unsafe. The family fled to Kurdistan — then six years ago to West Springfield, where Almoula started high school.
"I felt like I couldn’t do it and it was so hard," she recalled. "I had no friends. I had nothing. Everything was new to me."
Almoula, who’s now in college, said a turning point came when a history teacher wanted to know her story.
This report is part of a series called "Facing Change," which examines the shifting demographics of the region. It comes from the New England News Collaborative: eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing reason, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.