New, Complex Perspectives and My Evolving Understanding

Yesterday, I interviewed UVM associate professor Cynthia Reyes for the second time, along with a doctoral student with whom she works named Hemant Tamang-Ghising. I’d made a list of the topics Cynthia and I discussed on Monday, but I wasn’t really aware of the scope of Hemant’s experience, so I didn’t have a very accurate forecast for the interview itself. It ultimately surprised me, but in the best possible way.

Cynthia and Hemant have spent a lot of time studying New American and ELL education in Vermont, specifically in Chittenden county, and they’ve worked with and interviewed multiple families, which gives them a very rich and interesting scope because they have both a broader view of the situation and an acute awareness of the day-to-day reality for New American and ELL families. On top of that, Cynthia was formerly a teacher in a bilingual classroom in Chicago, and Hemant is a Bhutanese refugee who came to the U.S. five years ago, both learned and then taught in a refugee camp, and now has children in the Vermont public school system. The combination of these experiences made talking to them extremely interesting, especially as everything they said was backed by unique personal experience which included interaction with the situation in a variety of roles. I was initially a bit worried about interviewing them together, both for technical purposes (would it look odd to have two people in a shot when only one was talking? Would amending the situation require a lot of complex editing and make the scene appear different form every other shot in our documentary?) and because I was afraid that having two people would limit the extent to which one person could speak to an idea without feeling that they were influenced by the other’s presence or monopolizing time, but retrospectively I think that the joint interview was the best choice possible. They built off of each other’s ideas and presence, and I got a more rounded approach to each query simply by virtue of there being two people in the room with perspectives similar enough that they could agree with each other but different enough that they could hear the same question and take it in two different directions. To that end, the interview was really wonderful in that while Cynthia and I both felt that we covered everything we had on Monday, Hemant’s perspective also added a whole new level of depth to the conversation.

Upon learning more about the particulars of both Cynthia and Hemant’s respective experiences, I felt that my evolving understanding of the complexity of each perspective was reinforced, just as it was on Monday when I learned of one student’s participation in the ELL program at her school in the 1st and 2nd grades, but current status as a fully non-ELL student. Hemant spoke passionately and extensively to his love of the U.S. being equal to that of any other American, and he has a love for Vermont whose causes he identifies as feeling accepted and welcomed in a way holistic and rare. (He mentioned that many other Bhutanese refugees he knows leave other parts of the United States in order to come here, because it is unique in its accepting culture.) I was overwhelmed by this outpouring of positive sentiment, especially in light of the frankly unacceptable way that the U.S. as a whole has been treating English Language Learners and new immigrants of late, but his extremely informed perspective also made me appreciate once again the individual nature of our small state. He and Cynthia both felt very strongly that teachers, community members, and schools have been working very hard to create equitable environments, and they are supported by their research and experience in this claim. Unfortunately, due to their position, they have focused almost exclusively on schools in Chittenden county, even though Cynthia pointed out that the there are significant numbers of New American and English Language Learners outside that region, which once again made me feel that gathering perspectives from my own school is of the utmost importance.

Featured Image by Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Clara Lew-Smith

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