Inspired by the author's widely acclaimed New York Times article, The New Kids is immersion reporting at its most compelling. Brooke Hauser takes us deep inside a unique New York City high school over the course of a year as she follows diverse newcomers whose lives are at once ordinary and extraordinary, international headlines brought to life. No native English-speaking students attend the International High School, and more than twenty-eight languages fill the halls. The students in this modern-day Babel apply to college, fall in love, and rebel against their families like normal teenagers, but many deal with enormous obstacles - traumas and wars in their countries of origin that haunt them and pressures from their cultures to marry or drop out and go to work.
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Brooke Hauser is a writer living in New York City. For several years, she covered the film industry as Writer-at-Large and editor at Premiere. In 2005, her interest in profiling characters led her to The New York Times. Since then, she has tried to dig deep and tread lightly in many different worlds. She still writes about movies and movie stars for The Los Angeles Times, Allure, and More, among other publications.
Producer Tavia Gilbert is an AudioFile Earphones Award winner, an Audie Award nominee, and a Parent’s Choice Award winner. She makes her home in Portland, Maine, where she works as a writer and a stage and voice actor. Tavia produces, directs, and narrates unique audiobooks, full-cast recordings, and documentaries, and she is currently pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Chit Su’s First Day
Everybody has The Outfit—the outfit they bought for America. The students who have lived in the country for longer have learned how to blend in better, disappearing in brand-name sneakers and low-riding jeans. But each September on the first day of school, the new kids are easy to spot.
Some arrive in their native dress, like the Bangladeshi girls in colorful shalwar kameez, or the African boy who walked the halls in goatskin sandals lined with bristly hair. Others try to fit in and fail, like the boy who came from a country that no one had heard of. He wanted American blue jeans but settled for a pair hand-sewn by his uncle instead. Then there are the kids who dress the part of model student, a few in starched shirts and slacks still wrinkled from the plane, as if they were headed to an immigration interview instead of first period. One Yemeni boy showed up in a business suit, and a Haitian freshman carried a backpack filled with books that weren’t on any syllabus, his notebook thin from all the used pages torn out. Still, he was better off than the refugees who seem to arrive with nothing at all. Everyone remembers the Burmese sisters who wore flip-flops through the first winter snow.
Sitting behind a cluttered desk in her office on the fourth day of school, Dariana Castro examines the new girl from behind cat’s-eye glasses. Somehow, Student No. 219870508 got it almost right. Today is her first day at the International High School at Prospect Heights, a Brooklyn public school that teaches English to new immigrants, but at least by appearances she could be any girl entering the ninth grade at any high school in any city or small town across America. She has silky brown hair, which is half up, and small eyes, which are cast down at the floor. Her lips are glossed and her nails polished, but that doesn’t stop her from nibbling on them. She wears brand-new blue jeans (factory made), a black-and-red Mead backpack, and a T-shirt the fluorescent-green color of Nickelodeon slime. Her clothes fit too well to be hand-me-downs, and they leave no trace of a foreign country. It’s as if someone undressed a mannequin in the back-to-school display in the tween department of Target, and re-created the ensemble on her.
“What’s your name?” Dariana asks.
“Chit Su,” the girl says, twisting a flower-shaped ruby ring on her finger.
“Cheet Sue,” Dariana repeats carefully.
Cradling a phone receiver to her ear, she motions for the girl to take a seat. Especially during the first week of school, it’s rare that an extra chair is available. Throughout the day, a steady tide of visitors flows into this air-conditioned room, located in the back of the student-government office on the fourth floor, keeping Dariana in a perpetual state of distraction.
Officially she is known as the Coordinator of Special Programs, but a better job title would be The Fixer. Every immigrant community has one, and the International High School at Prospect Heights has Dariana, a twenty-five-year-old Dominican with pale skin, curly red-tinted hair that will change colors and styles many times in the coming months, and a solution for everything. Teachers go to her for glue sticks, information about scholarships, or a squirt of hand sanitizer from the giant container on her desk.
To students, Dariana is like Craigslist and a big sister rolled into one, offering everything from job opportunities and relationship advice to home remedies for any number of ailments. For instance, how to get rid of a hickey. Step 1: Address the problem, as she had to do with a Parisian junior who came to school with a blotchy purple stain above his collarbone. What’s on your neck? That’s disgusting! Step 2: Rub the inflicted area with a penny to disperse the blood. It works with black and blues, too. Step 3: Cover what’s left of the love bite with concealer, dismissing any protests that the student in question, in this case a boy, might make about not wanting to wear make-up. Well, why’d you let her do that? Step 4: Send the student back to class.
As soon as the new girl walked into her office to pick up her class schedule, it was obvious to Dariana that Chit Su was suffering from a bad case of nerves. But that’s just about the only thing about Chit Su that is obvious. Other than the ID number assigned to her by the New York City Department of Education, very little is known about Student No. 219870508. No one is exactly sure where she came from, or how she got here this morning, up three flights of stairs and past security. To Dariana, she looks like an ordinary American girl. But she is from Burma. Or Thailand. Her answer changes depending on who asks. Either way, she is the only person in the entire school who speaks her language, now that the flip-flop-wearing Burmese sisters have relocated to Texas. She is seventeen years old, and her English is very limited. That much is clear.
“Are you happy to be here?” Dariana asks, leaning forward. “Are you nervous?”
Silence. Shifting her weight in the chair, the girl smiles, her teeth crowded on top of each other like subway riders at rush hour.
“You’re not nervous?” Dariana asks again, this time speaking more slowly. More silence.
Dariana stands up and walks over to the corner of the room, where a large plastic bag is filled with snacks and small cartons of juice.
“Here,” she says, handing Chit Su a package of peanut-butter crackers, along with her class schedule. “Eat these every time you feel nervous. It will make you feel better.” Rubbing her stomach, Dariana pretends to chew. “Mmmm. That’s what I do.”
* * *
The International High School is located in north-central Brooklyn on the third and fourth floors of a massive, sandy brick building, formerly known as Prospect Heights High School. In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, amid gang warfare, it was considered among the most violent schools in the city. But since then, the Prospect Heights High School closed, and in its place are four small schools: the Brooklyn Academy for Science and the Environment, the Brooklyn School for Music & Theatre, the High School for Global Citizenship, and the International High School at Prospect Heights.
Every morning on the way to first period, students have to pass through a metal detector. Located on the southern side of the school building, the security area is better known as “scanning,” and was set up as part of a citywide effort to reduce violence and weapon possession in schools. The rules are pretty simple: In addition to guns, knives, and glass bottles, no headgear, belts, or electronics are allowed. Nevertheless, day after day, a battle of wills plays out on the patch of sidewalk where boys and girls form double lines under the watch of various administrators and blue-uniformed school-safety officers who guard the entrance to the cafeteria. Despite countless PA announcements throughout the year about dress code, students show up in bandannas and bandies (bandannas tied around the chest like a bra), do-rags and chains, country flags festooning from their pockets, and dingy boxers ballooning from their low-riding jeans like puffs of smog.
For the most part, the upperclassmen are wise to the campuswide restrictions from 8:40 AM to 3:10 PM A few bury their cell phones in Prospect Park until school is out, while others grudgingly deposit their Sidekicks and iPods into numbered brown paper bags, which, for a small fee, cashiers at any number of nearby delis will stow behind the counter, along with the scratch-off cards, Wet N’ Wild condoms, and E-Z Wider rolling papers. The Yemeni clerk on Franklin Avenue is known to have the best deal on the block, one reason why his store is always packed with International students in the minutes before class. Occasionally kids manage to stash their phones in their shoes and get through the metal detector without incident, but it is hard to sneak much past the flat stares of the guards.
One person who always manages to slip by is Alex Harty, a twelfth-grade math teacher. Tall, lanky, pierced, and tattooed—a multicolored portrait of “the gunslinger” from Stephen King’s series The Dark Tower covers his right arm—Alex lopes through the halls of the International like a walking DO NOT DISTURB sign, when he isn’t rolling through on his skateboard. On most days, he comes to work wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap and baggy cargo shorts, publicly flouting the schoolwide ban of hats and disregarding the administration’s distaste for low-riding pants. He did wear a suit on his job interview: his prom suit. Despite the no-iPod rule, Alex is rarely seen without his headphones. Not just any headphones. These are Shure SCL2 sound-isolating earbuds in black, which, according to the product description, are “great for use in noisy environments such as bus stations, airports, or live stages.”
Or high schools. In the past, everything from the metal band Tool to the bluegrass fusion of Bela Fleck has helped Alex keep his sanity, but not this year, not during the first week of school. Over the summer he lost his iPod, and when he walks into the halls of the fourth floor, there is no buffer, no noise rock or soothing Flecktones to drown out the sound of his students crying out, “Mr. Haaaaaarrrrrtttttyyyyyyyyyy!”—and more than four hundred other voices shrieking simultaneously in foreign tongues.
“Aiiiiiiiiii, Te ves muy morena!”
“What’s crackin’, yo? What’s poppin’?”
“Kire ki obostha!”
“Hey, Plátano,” a French junior calls out to a curly-haired Dominican girl, her brown skin oozing like fresh taffy out of too-tight jeans.
“Hey, Frenchie,” she says, smiling over her shoulder before folding...
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Book Description Free Press 2011-09-20, 2011. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Hardcover. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Bookseller Inventory # 9781439163283B
Book Description Free Press, 2011. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. First. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX1439163286
Book Description Free Press, 2011. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P111439163286
Book Description Free Press. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1439163286 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0606292