When Ying Ye came to the United States from China two years ago, she didn’t know any English. She is now an honors student and will be receiving her diploma on Friday.
Ye’s parents bought a business in town and her father came here from Fuzhou, Fujian, China a year before the rest of the family.
When she came to Ellington, Ye spent the summer watching television to try to learn English, but still couldn’t speak it. She had taken English as a second language class – like most people would take Spanish or French in high school – so she could read a bit of it. Even still, most people didn’t speak English so that hadn’t helped her learn.
When Ye, 21, and her siblings Tong, 18, and Kai, 17, entered school, they would sit in class and not understand what their teachers were saying. That’s different now.
“We didn’t know anything about what they were talking about,” Ye said. “I can understand what they’re talking about and what they’re saying.”
For the first couple days, Ye and her siblings were accompanied by a friend of guidance counselor Judi Moeller who speaks Chinese. After that, she would come by periodically to be with the children.
Moeller said that the children were overwhelmed by everything at first – especially the loud and bustling cafeteria, where they didn’t like the food anyway. Moeller said that they used pictures to communicate because nobody spoke Chinese. That’s when she brought in her friend.
In the classroom, Moeller said that not only did the kids not know anything about American history, but then they would have to take the entire chapter home, translate it to Chinese, understand it, translate the questions to Chinese, answer the questions in Chinese, and then translate them back to English so that they could be turned in.
“She and her two siblings did that every single day,” she said. “When teacher’s would say, ‘This is the material we’re going to cover in this chapter,’ and we didn’t know this until later on, they didn’t know that a chapter might mean that you were going to take a week or two to do it – they would go home that night and do it all. They would come back the next day and be ready for the chapter.”
She added that in the beginning, they did all of that with one dictionary they that they shared. They now have laptops and don’t have to share the dictionary.
Ye had never taken a U.S. history class and her English needed work, so she had a lot to do in order to graduate.
“We really concentrated on meeting the Ellington graduation requirements,” Moeller said.
Moeller added that Ye also took gym classes, art classes, child development classes, and more to become well rounded and for exposure to American things.
Ye would have gone all the way back to being a freshman – after being two months away from graduation in China – but it was decided that she would become a junior and just do two years. If she had gone all the way back to freshman year, she would have aged out of the system.
While she would have aged out after this year, that has nothing to do with Ye graduating. She has earned her diploma – and has been on the honor roll three times.
“When she picks up that Ellington High School diploma and she’s wearing purple, she earned every bit of it,” Moeller said. “She met all of the same graduation requirements that every other child getting that diploma did. No easy way out. She did it all. That diploma, she earned it. We are not handing her a diploma. That’s the first thing I said to them, ‘We are not going to hand you a diploma here at Ellington High School, you are going to earn your diploma.’”
Moeller added the Ye and her siblings work very hard, working at the family restaurant in addition to going to school.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “Then they come around and talk like they’re so blessed – this is such a great opportunity. For the kids of Ellington to see that perspective on what they take for granted was really pretty awesome. She has great friends and is well respected in her high school.”
Ye is going to MCC in the fall and will be studying international business. She has already passed the Accuplacer placement test so she doesn’t have to do any pre-classes – she’s going right in.
Ye said that while her education in China made her better, her time in Ellington has really changed her.
“I didn’t have a dream and a goal in my country,” she said. “Ellington High School helped me find my dream. It’s a big change for me. My whole life changed a lot. I want to do international business and make money. If I have more and more, I can donate to poor people. If I’m doing international business, (I can travel) between my country and here. I don’t want to stay in one place forever. My Chinese education made me better, but here changed me a lot. Here is so sweet. I love the people here. It’s very comfortable to be here.”
Ye added that in college, she also wants to take some art classes because art – especially graphic design – interest her and she would like to incorporate that into her future business.
Moeller is very proud of Ye and how far she has come.
“I love her spirit, the grace in which she welcomed any challenge, her willingness to overcome any obstacle – a new country, a new town, a new school, anything we put in front of her,” she said. “I admire her for her unfailing commitment to learning. It’s been a pleasure, and we’re so proud of her.”