Every student at Boston International High School is a new immigrant. All at once, they must become adults and become Americans. Their teachers impart lessons in tenacity. They learn courage by example, from each other. Meet Cassania Gilson and Leonal Peguero, two graduating seniors from a school where roaring rounds of applause are the norm. Both face incredible odds as they depart.
Before Leonal Peguero boarded the plane to Boston, he told himself: “This is my opportunity to share my life. I have to be a new person.” He was 19 years old.
Leonal chose work over school after eighth grade in his native Dominican Republic. He’d spent four years delivering potable water by the gallon on the unpaved streets of La Calata, just east of Santo Domingo, when his grandmother gave him the news that he would be moving to Boston.
“I was like, ‘It’s not true,’ ” Leonal recalled. “And then it was.”
He had his first day of school in the United States on April 28, 2011. A test placed him in Newcomer’s Academy, a pre-high school program in Dorchester for students who have missed multiple years of school in their home countries. He transferred to Boston International High School, in the same building, upon completing the program. His new classmates came from refugee camps, crossed the US border on their own as children, survived natural disasters, or, like Leonal, had been working.
“He was the oldest and the biggest,” said his teacher, Marilu Alvarado. “But you could see in the way that he was behaving that he wanted to learn.” Leonal was functioning at a fifth-grade level in his native language. He spoke no English.
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