VOICES: “It Was My First Day of School in the U.S. and I Spoke No English”


Kathy remembers her first day in a U.S. school, she was just eight years old, had just arrived from Honduras, and spoke no English.

Two years later, Kathy is now working on the same level as her English speaking peers, is a model student, and excels in math.

English learning teacher Katie Knowles talks with Kathy about that scary first day of school, missing tamales and her dreams for the future.

Read transcript.


Bringing You the Voices That are the Heart and Soul of ACPS

VOICES is an audio series that shares the stories of our students, families and staff — in their words and in their voices. Everyone’s story is different. Success looks different for every person. VOICES celebrates these differences and successes by sharing the stories that are the heart and soul of ACPS.

Stay tuned for details in the coming weeks about how you can submit your story suggestions for consideration.

Listen to the first story in the series, “Olympic Boxing Hopeful Goes Back to School to Talk to His Former Principal.”


(Narrator) Kathy remembers her first day in a U.S. school, she was just eight years old, had just arrived from Honduras, and spoke no English. Two years later, Kathy is now working on the same level as her English speaking peers, is a model student, and excels in math. English learning teacher Katie Knowles talks with Kathy about that scary first day of school and the progress she’s made since.

(KN) Remember in second grade, you came to Maury, and do you remember anything about that first day that you came?

(Kathy) I just spoke one language. I just spoke Spanish. Everybody was saying “hi” and then we were gonna take a math test …

(KN) mm-hmm

(Kathy) … everybody was gonna take it in the classroom but you took me with you.

(KN) I talked to Ms. Forbes and she said, “Well, she just got here but she seems like she’s understanding what we’re talking about, and so maybe just take her and see what she can do. And if she doesn’t answer any of the questions, that’s okay.” So, then what happened?

(Kathy) Um, you were reading a question to us. And you were putting some things on the board for us to read.

(KN) We went back to Ms. Forbes and I showed it to her and we said, “Wow, this girl can do some math!” And I said, “Well, I think she came from Maryland.” Right? You were in Maryland for how long? One month? I thought that you were there for maybe a year or two years because you were understanding what we were saying and your math was so good and then when your mom said one month, Ms. Forbes and I thought, oh there must be a problem with the translation. There’s no way you could have been here for one month and be speaking English and doing that great math. But it’s true! How have things changed for you since then?

(Kathy) I’ve been learning more English and practicing at home by myself because my parents don’t know that much English.

(KN) What do you do when you get to something that you are not sure about? Like, a lot of kids might ask their parents, but what do you do?

(Kathy) Ask a teacher or sometimes ask friends.

(KN) When you’re out with your mom, and you have a little baby brother now, right? Do you sometimes interpret for her?

(Kathy) Yes.

(KN) And how does that feel to do? Does it make you feel proud or is it kind of sometimes like, oh kind of like, a job?

(Kathy) It makes me feel proud,

(KN) Yeah, because you’re such a good helper. And what about for your little brother? So, your little brother was born here, right? So it’s gonna be a little bit different when he starts kindergarten. Do you have any advice for him?

(Kathy) I will help him on that.

(KN) I’m sure you will. Are you speaking in English to him now? Are you speaking in Spanish?

(Kathy) Both.

(KN) What happened when you got to America in Maryland first?

(Kathy) Well, sometimes I was scared to go out because I didn’t know nothing and I thought people are gonna laugh at me, but at last I just went out and didn’t care what they said.

(KN) Yes, you’re brave, right, as always. And then what happened when you came to school here? Um. How did it feel?

(Kathy) Different. Because people were helping me. Back in Maryland no one helped me, and in here, um, kids helped me and teachers let them do that.

(KN) The first month when you’re in Maryland, it was kind of hard. Yeah. But things got better when you got here.

(Kathy) Yeah.

(KN) Then you had your first day of school in fourth grade, were you super scared?

(Kathy) No.

(KN) Why not?

(Kathy) Because I knew English and I knew other people and I have friends. Back in Honduras, we didn’t have a playground and the teachers all the mornings stood talking to parents and just put us to count and write the numbers 1 to 100. And then when we’re done with that, 100 to 200, and until they were done. And most of the time we did that because they stood talking the whole time. Here, I feel really good because we have a playground and we have something to do in the classroom. And in Honduras, I feel really scared because, um, people were jumping into the school and doing bad stuff. And here, I feel safe. So near where we used to live, there was the school which you just had to pay twenty dollars to go to at the beginning of the school year, and then, um, you just stay there. But it was like the principal, it was just a principal and two teachers. They didn’t have that much of teachers and the classrooms didn’t have light, plus we didn’t have a bathroom. And, um, each time there was a birthday, and people wanted to celebrate it in the school, because there was a big, like a place for to celebrate the birthday, we didn’t have schools just to celebrate that birthday.

(KN) You had a birthday party for everybody’s birthday?

(Kathy) Um, not for, for people who wanted to rent that place.

(KN) Oh, so people came in and rented the place and where there was school then you couldn’t have school.

(Kathy) Yeah.

(KN) Did that make you happy or sad?

(Kathy) Sad because I wanted to learn. Actually, yes I wanted to learn but we did nothing, each day we did the same thing.

(KN) So you think you’ve learned a lot more since you’ve been here?

(Kathy) Yes!

(KN) Yes, let me tell you you’ve learned a lot since you’ve been here! Is there anything that you really miss about Honduras?

(Kathy) Yes, all the food. There is like tamales that we eat over there but they’re corn ones. They’re so good. And they don’t sell it here.

(KN) Does your mom make some Honduran food sometimes? Yes?

(Kathy) Yes. My grandma’s coming so she’s just gonna bring some.

(KN) Perfect. Do you think you’ll go back to visit Honduras sometime?

(Kathy) Yes.

(KN) Yes.

(Kathy) I want to make it better.

(KN) What do you think you want to be when you grow up?

(Kathy) Lawyer or a doctor.

(KN) I can see it. Would you like to go back to Honduras and help people in Honduras?

(Kathy) Yes. And I like this place.

(KN) Well, we’re so glad you’re here. I’m so lucky to be your teacher because I think I learned as much from you as you learn from me.

(Kathy) Since I have been two years here I learned a lot, but I still want to learn more.

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