Despite having arrived in the United States from Guatemala a mere five months ago with no knowledge of the English language, Irving High School freshman Helen Ixcotoyac has lofty goals – to earn scholarships for college and eventually obtain a doctorate.
What once seemed impossible now appears within reach for 16-year-old Ixcotoyac, thanks to the motivation found in Girl Group, a support group for newcomer students organized by Irving High School counselor Rosalinda Estrada.
“Ms. Estrada brought a student who graduated from Irving High School a few years ago,” says Ixcotoyac. “She arrived in the United States at about my age, and now she has scholarships and is studying at a university. From the moment we heard from her, I have made it my goal to earn scholarships. She started taking advanced classes, so I am thinking of taking advanced classes next year.”
Although Ixcotoyac admits it has been challenging to adapt to and learn a new language, she is making great strides.
“I don’t understand English perfectly, but I’ve gotten to the point where if my classmates don’t understand and I do, I feel comfortable stepping in to help,” she says. “A lot of that has to do with the encouragement of our teachers, like Mr. Soriano. He tells us we have to speak English, and if we try to speak to him in Spanish, he ignores us. I think that’s good because it’s all to help us develop our language skills.”
Ixcotoyac also acknowledges the contributions of her classmates who showed her around the school and translated for her.
“My first day at Irving High School, I felt strange,” she says. “But within days, my classmates and I bonded and formed a community of support. I will definitely pay that forward. So many people have helped me as I assimilate, and I feel compelled to help any newcomer like I was helped.”
Ixcotoyac finds even more support in Girl Group, where participants talk about everything from academic challenges to friendships, dating and post-high school opportunities.
“I want this group to be a place where they can open up and see that there are other individuals on the same journey and where they get exposure to what is out there and see how far kids who have been in their same position have come, what they have accomplished,” says Estrada. “I want them to know that, yes, you are having these challenges, but with the skills and knowledge these students are gaining, they’re going to be the best version of themselves. They will be successful.
Ixcotoyac already believes that.
“I now know it is possible,” she says. “I know it won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either.”