Nafisa Didn’t Let Frustrations Hold Her Education Back

Moving to a new town and starting a new school can be a tough adjustment for child.

Add that your new school in your new town. In a different country. Where you don’t speak the language and aren’t permitted to wear the kinds of clothes you’ve worn your whole life-and “adjustment” takes on a whole new meaning.

Nafisa, who was born in Kenya, moved to Texas with her family when she was nine. Her new school wouldn’t permit her to wear a hijab, the traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women. “I felt naked not covering up but the school wouldn’t allow it,” says Nafisa. “I also knew very little English so meeting friends was almost impossible. I felt very alone.”

Nafisa’s family moved to the Seattle area when she was in middle school, still struggling to master English.

“Middle school was hard because I had a difficult time reading and had to take extra classes to figure out the language. I had to work harder than the other students but I didn’t let it stop me. I kept going no matter how frustrating it got.”

Nafisa’s diligence and determination paid off in high school. She passed the tests required for ESL (English as a Second Language) students. Despite receiving the required scores, Nafisa’s school insisted she remain in ESL classes, which hurt her chances of completing all of the subjects required to graduate. With just weeks before senior finals, a serious sports concussion sidelined Nafisa and sealed the deal: She wouldn’t graduate on time. It was a big blow to the outgoing 18-year-old who would have been the first in her family to graduate from high school.

“I felt a huge disappointment but even worse, I felt dumb.”

Exploring alternatives to traditional high school, Nafisa and her family learned about Reconnecting Youth, United Way’s program to get young people reconnected to their education and achieve their high school diploma or GED. To date, 8,600 young people in King County have engaged in educational coaching, one on one mentoring and career navigation through the Reconnecting Youth program.

United Way continues to scale the program as the need is substantial: 14,000 young people in the community have dropped out of school without a diploma, greatly diminishing their prospects for a good living-wage job. The community also misses out on some young people with great potential.

Through United Way’s Reconnecting Youth partner Career Link, Nafisa finished the three classes she needed to obtain her high school diploma. She’s now taking college courses at South Seattle College and exploring a career in maternal health.

“I’m thinking of becoming an ultrasound technician. I love working with people, giving them hope and offering parents-to-be a first look at their babies—so cool!”

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