ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Four middle school students sat around a table in a classroom one warm afternoon in May, making their way through a reading worksheet.
High school senior Lanah Almatroud helped the younger students who were dressed in khakis and navy polo shirts at Multicultural Academy haltingly sound out the English words.
They spoke more quickly in Arabic as Almatroud reviewed the concepts lost to them in the translation. Almatroud, 17, a Syrian native whose family moved to Ann Arbor in 2013, knows what it’s like to try to learn in a second language.
She didn’t speak English when she began seventh grade at Ann Arbor’s Scarlett Middle School. Five years later, she’s about to graduate from Skyline High School with a 3.9 GPA.
“They just need to have high self-confidence and they can do it,” Almatroud said. “Even if they struggle with English now, that’s how I used to be, but now I’m good at English. They’ll be able to get good grades. I just keep encouraging them that it’s going to be fine.”
Scarlett Middle School Principal Gerald Vasquez and ESL teacher Candida Justyna were instrumental in helping Almatroud learn English and feel comfortable at school, she said.
The Ann Arbor News reports that when Almatroud moved on to Skyline, former English teacher Christopher Peterson - who drowned in a kayaking accident in 2016 - helped her take notes in social studies and science classes and then work with her after school to explain the content in simpler English terms.
Peterson encouraged Almatroud to leave ESL classes and enroll in a regular English class in 10th grade, and she said she ended up getting an A in that class.
She’s also taking AP calculus and is involved in numerous extracurricular activities. She’s considering a career in health care and said she has been accepted to University of Michigan-Dearborn, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University and Detroit Mercy....Almatroud said she was a good student in Syria, too. Knowing what her parents gave up to give her and her sisters a new life in America has reinforced her motivation to do well.“I just want to give them back some of what they’ve done for us,” Almatroud said. “By me getting good grades and going to college and maybe medical school, I’m giving some back.”Her family - which includes her father, mother and two younger sisters - escaped the war beginning to affect their hometown of Damascus, the country’s capital. There were power outages and they could hear bombs going off in the distance when they decided it was time to leave.They left friends, relatives, high-paying jobs and a once-comfortable life behind to seek safety and a better future in the U.S.“They knew