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Published:May 3rd, 2007 09:38 EST
Teens Learning English in U.S. Benefit from Press Freedom

Teens Learning English in U.S. Benefit from Press Freedom

By SOP newswire

Silver Spring, Maryland – Teenage immigrants working as reporters on a student newspaper are learning about press freedom as they polish their English.

The 20-year-old Silver International, published at Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland, seeks to improve the English language skills of immigrant teens. Yet its journalists, many of whom come from countries where the press is controlled tightly, also learn about the rights and responsibilities of a free press.

The newspaper, published three times a year, showcases the English skills of students arriving throughout the academic year from such countries as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Russia, China, India, Vietnam and El Salvador.

The immigrant students fit in quickly in the American lifestyle, but their stories and editorials for the newspaper often reflect important issues in their native countries. Recent articles have focused on the first woman president of Liberia, protests against the government of Ethiopia and school uniforms in Nepal.

Of the 3,291 students attending Montgomery Blair in grades 9 through 12, some 330 students are enrolled in the English-language program and 95 percent of these teens are immigrants, according to Assistant Principal Linda Wanner.

Joseph Bellino, the English language teacher at Montgomery Blair, advises the newspaper’s staff about how to write or edit news stories and editorials. This is Abhishek Sinha’s second year editing the paper.  Sinha, a senior, is from India and, like the rest of his family, plans to study medicine, not journalism.

His career goals notwithstanding, it feels great to write and publish a story, Sinha said. “Especially when you write about something important, it feels like you are doing something good for society." Sinha wrote in the winter 2006 issue about the worldwide threat of bird flu.

Few of the students have gone on to pursue journalism, Bellino said, but one of the newspaper’s editors won a prestigious summer internship at newspaper giant Knight Ridder in Chicago.

Some students learn that their printed words “have a lot of power," Bellino said.  It is also an important lesson for students that “not everyone wants to read what they write," he said. In addition, they learn about providing balance in their stories.

Although most subscribers to print editions of the newspaper include students’ family members and neighbors in their native countries, the paper has a large following of international students in Massachusetts, Minnesota and California. The newspaper also has built a relationship with Gymnasium Wandlitz, a secondary school in Germany, and students from that school near Berlin contribute articles to the Silver International. At the end of the academic year in late June, the newspaper is posted on Montgomery Blair’s Web site.

Reading the Silver International helps subscribers in other countries “feel really connected to the U.S.," Bellino said.

Although the core of the paper’s editorial staff now is fluent in English, several teens told USINFO they spoke little or no English before enrolling in Montgomery Blair. None of the students said they read the daily newspaper in their native countries or had thoughts about what it means to have a free press.

“For all of [the staff members], it's a highlight of their high school career," Bellino said. 

Carolina Tista de la Roca, from Guatemala, said that when she sees her byline on a story it reminds her how much she has learned living in the United States. Tista now says she wants to be a reporter.

Elma Rivera, from El Salvador, said she is “happy but nervous" just before the paper is published because she feels the act of writing “is personal." She said she has new understanding about “how hard it is to write stories" and enjoys reading the international section of The Washington Post.

Rivera said her work on the Silver International makes her think about “liberty and promise" and about the freedoms she enjoys living in the United States. 

Nelson Palomo, also from El Salvador, arrived at the paper skilled in computer technology and often troubleshoots technical problems. Paloma says that if he has to write articles, he prefers to report on subjects he is most passionate about in his new home: skateboarding and playing pool with his American classmates.

Abbas Gadzhiyez, from Russia, said he has not given much thought to free press issues, but he does think about the freedom to have fun with his friends that he enjoys in Maryland.

“The newspaper is helping me to speak English," Gadzhivez said, “but I’m [also] getting pretty good at pool."