'I didn't know how to say my name': From no English at all to university admission

Yaqoot Al-Alwi had to overcome a language gap to get her high school diploma, and now she's off to university.

19-year-old learns English and earns her high school diploma in 5 years

Yaqoot Al-Alwi, student Westview Freedom Academy (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Yaqoot Al-Alwi walked into a Windsor high school with only a Grade 6 education and zero knowledge of the English language. But now she is graduating academic level courses and moving on to the University of Windsor.

Al-Alwi fled Iraq to Lebanon when she was 9 years old, but while she lived in Lebanon her education came to a grinding halt.

"The principal didn't let me go to school because I was Muslim," she said. "He didn't accept me in the school."

Four years later, Al-Alwi moved to Canada and while she said she was accepted for being Muslim, she now had to overcome the language barrier to advance her education.

"I didn't know how to say my name, nothing," she said. "I couldn't tell the teacher what I want, I can't even tell her if I don't understand something. So I had to force myself to learn English. And yes, step by step I learned, I had to learn it."

At Westview Freedom Academy, 231 students are enrolled in the English Literacy Development (ELD) and English as a Second Language programs (ESL).

Yole Thompson, Westview Freedom Academy teacher with ELD/ESL (Amy Dodge/CBC)

These programs are vital for newcomers to close the gap in their education while gaining proficiency in English.

"When newcomers to Canada arrive in the educational system in Ontario, they are said to have a seven-year gap in terms of their skill set for language learning from a native speaker," said Yole Thompson, Interim Department Head for ELD/ELS at Westview Freedom Academy.

Al-Alwi completed ELD and ELS and the school transitioned her into mainstream classes, including those at the academic level to set her up for post-secondary options. This doesn't always happen with newcomers in high school, said Thompson.

"It entirely depends on the motivation of the student," she said. "Definitely her motivation has been a great part of her success."

"There are numerous supports here at Westview Freedom Academy to of course assist students in their path."

After witnessing her mom's recovery from a surgery, Al-Alwi chose to focus her efforts on getting into the University of Windsor for human kinetics.

"Helping people and getting them back to their normal life, that's a good thing. And I really like helping people. So I was like, that's a good program and I'm going to fit in it."

She is enrolled for September.

Yaqoot Al-Alwi learned English and got her high school diploma in 5 years. She is now going to the University of Windsor in September. 0:15

"That's a big success, like seriously, I worked so hard to get accepted to the University of Windsor, especially the program that I wanted. I worked so hard to get this program. And that was something that I was dreaming of, and dreaming of getting there," she said.

Al-Alwi is set to graduate June 26.

About the Author

Amy Dodge is a video journalist at CBC Windsor.


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