Starting high school can be intimidating for any student… new classes, new friends and looking ahead to a new chapter of life. Now imagine starting high school not only in a new city, but also in a nation where you don’t know the language or the culture.
For students facing that situation, Aldine Independent School District created a means to ease the transition: La Promesa, a dual language high school for students who have been in the United States for three years or fewer. The name means “the promise” in Spanish.
La Promesa is located in a wing of Aldine High School, but operates separately, with its own faculty and classes, under the direction of Principal Ana Fernanda Flores-Bolivar. The school started with 150 students in the fall 2021 and add a grade each year. With its first students approaching the end of their sophomore year, La Promesa now has a total of 259 students.
“I think the Houston area as a whole is receiving more and more immigrants, but for Aldine we have seen an increase in our newcomer population and it’s been very evident in the last two years,” Flores-Bolivar said.
La Promesa has filled all available spots before the start of each school year, she said, and there are another 100 to 150 newcomers in the district’s comprehensive high schools.
“In the past it was more of the Mexican immigrants (who) were coming. Now we’re seeing more Central America. Right now at La Promesa our biggest population are families from Honduras,” Flores-Bolivar said.
Students from El Salvador are the second largest group, followed by those from Mexico, but virtually every country in Central and South America is represented, she said.
Most of the students are native Spanish speakers, she said, but others Vietnamese and Arabic.
The curriculum at La Promesa is the same as at other Aldine high schools, Flores-Bolivar said, with some additions to assist the newcomers.
In some classes, students might be offered written or video materials introducing a new concept or subject in their native language before learning about it in English in the classroom.
They also have the chance to learn about American celebrations and traditions and to share with one another about the cultures of their countries of origin.
All students are expected to speak English and Spanish or another language, which Flores-Bolivar said will benefit them as they enter the workforce.
“Let’s give them those tools,” she said, “so they can be the bilingual teacher. They can be the bilingual lawyer. They can be the bilingual engineer.”
“The intention is not only to (give) back to our own community but open our communities up to other people so they can say there is value to learning other languages and cultures.”
She said La Promesa also offers English as a Second Language and GED classes for parents of its students.
Students are also involved in community work, including involvement with a YMCA leadership group, Flores-Bolivar said: “We’re not just here to educate in the academics, but we’re really trying to build better people for our community.”
Beginning next year, enrollment at La Promesa will also be open to students who are not immigrants, thus giving other students the opportunity to learn in a bilingual, multi-cultural setting.
Flores-Bolivar has a special background in understanding the experience of students facing a new school in a foreign land. As the daughter of a Mexican foreign diplomat, she moved frequently to different countries.
Her English education began when her father served in New York and later El Paso. It was while attending a Jesuit school in Nicaragua that she became interested in education.
Life took a different direction and she became an attorney in Mexico City, where she practiced law for 10 years before attending a recruiting event there in 2006 for Houston-area school districts. She signed on for a one-year stint as a bilingual teacher in Aldine and stayed with the district.
“Now I’m in my 16th year in education, not missing law at all,” she said.
— By Mark Fleming