Written by Ayanna Melander, a student at North High School, with translation assistance by Gabby Benavente-Hobert

At the beginning of the school year, North High social studies teacher Samuel Wilbur began teaching his unit on U.S. immigration. By the middle of the semester, his class size had doubled, with Spanish-speaking students with their own stories to tell.

“I have students that say they've made a journey of 2,000 miles to get here,” Wilbur said.

One crossed several countries on foot, another traversed the Darien Gap, a vast 99-mile jungle, and another was taken across the border by a paid guide known as a coyote.

“I've had a lot of things happen there (in my home country). “I came here for better schooling opportunities. I'll be able to get ahead,” said Conseulo, a freshman who is from Mexico.

For privacy, students' last names are not published.

In just one quarter, North High has opened its doors to 29 Spanish-speaking students who had fled political violence, drug cartels, and authoritarian regimes. They are among thousands, maybe millions, fleeing their homelands seeking asylum and a better life.

Teachers are adapting their curriculum to resonate with students. Wilbur currently has one classroom with 18 Spanish-speaking students and 12 English-speaking students. The number grows every week. As the school's only ninth-grade social studies teacher, he has had to work closely with Gabby Benavente-Hobert to change his instruction from lecture-based to project-based learning, often teaching a lesson in English and then in Spanish, all in one class period.

“When crossing the border, you can’t bring anything besides memories. We are coming here with so many dreams and aspirations for our futures. ”


Liliana Rodriguez, MPS content lead for the office of Latin Achievement, said many families have fled violence and instability in Latin American countries.

“Many Latin American students we now teach were displaced by cartels destroying communities, poor socio-economic opportunities and lack of education,” she said.

Gabby Benavente-Hobert migrated to the United States from Peru with her family when she was just 9. She was immersed in an environment where she didn’t know the language or culture and became responsible for helping her family navigate a new language and lifestyle.

She knows the importance of understanding something for the first time and the comfort of being understood. This year, she was brought onto North High’s staff to support the school's rapidly growing Spanish-speaking student population and serve as a translator.

“People feel like there’s a limited amount of resources and love and support that we can give and that’s not true. As humans, our capacity for love is endless. I want our teachers and other educators to tap into that,” Venazence said. “Not see our students as burdens, but as wonderful people contributing to the classroom and country.”

We’ve been finding community in each other and even in other students at North High.

“Learning to communicate with people has been really awesome, despite the language difference,” said Brittany, a freshman from Ecuador.

Rodriguez says teachers across Minneapolis Public Schools face the challenges of growing class sizes.

"This summons educators and leaders to adopt culturally sustaining teaching, learn languages that resonate with students, and incorporate tools to reach youth from different backgrounds,” she said.

Students say settling in has been a challenge, but opportunities outweigh the challenges they have now.

“When crossing the border, you can't bring anything besides memories,” said Evelyn, a freshman from Ecuador. “We are coming here with so many dreams and aspirations for our futures.”

“I have a motivation here that’s different from Ecuador. I'm learning more, I'm putting in more effort, I'm trying my best, and I'm really liking it here,” Brittany said.

They shared their hopes for their future now that they've made it to the U.S. Evelyn wants to study politics at Harvard, Brittany wants to pursue a career in the medical field, and Consuelo wants to join the military.

They all encourage the community to help their new neighbors while they settle in.

“There are also so many immigrants here now that are in need,” said Evelyn, encouraging others to give people refuge, food and kindness. “There are so many who need help.”

This story was originally published in North News