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A year in the life of a Chicago high school that has one of the highest proportions of refugees of any school in the nation

For a century, Chicago’s Roger C. Sullivan High School has been a landing place for migrants. In recent years, it boasts one of the highest proportions of immigrant and refugee students in the country. In 2017, around half its student population hailed from another country, with students from 35 different countries speaking more than 38 different languages.

Some had arrived having lived only in refugee camps. Nearly all carried the trauma inflicted on them by the world at its most hateful and violent. Life is not easy for them in Chicago. They cope with poverty, racism, and xenophobia, with overburdened social-service organizations and gang turf wars they don’t understand. But above all, they are still teens, flirting, dreaming, and working as they navigate their new life in America.

Refugee High is a riveting chronicle of the 2017-18 school year at Sullivan High, a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric was at its height in the White House. Even as we follow teachers and administrators grappling with the everyday challenges facing many urban schools, we witness the complicated circumstances and unique education needs of refugee and immigrant children: Alejandro may be deported just days before he is scheduled to graduate; Shahina narrowly escapes an arranged marriage; and Esengo is shot at the beginning of the school year.

Raising vital questions about what the priorities and values of a public school like Sullivan should be, Refugee High is a vital window into the present-day American immigration and education systems.

©2021 Elly Fishman. This book was authored and based on copyrighted work owned by and published by Chicago magazine on June 6, 2017 (P)2021 Blackstone Publishing

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