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Born in Poland, MHS 10th Grader Anita Wolf Found a Fresh Start and Family in the MISD Newcomers Program (Part Two of a Three-Part Series)

Press Release|
Shane Mauldin|
Monday, December 6, 2021
Faubion Middle School Newcomers ESL teacher Lynda Wolf and her daughter Anita—a 10th grader at McKinney High School—share a laugh as they sit in Lynda's classroom and talk about the day.

Faubion Middle School Newcomers ESL teacher Lynda Wolf and her daughter Anita—a 10th grader at McKinney High School—share a laugh as they sit in Lynda's classroom and talk about the day.

The McKinney ISD Newcomers Program has been in place at Faubion Middle School, McKinney Boyd High School and McKinney High School since 2014 and provides extra support for students who have been in the country for less than two years and who do not speak English. Among the program support structures is a daily elective period that is focused solely on English language acquisition. For the members of that class, it’s a lifeline. In Part One of this three-part series, we shared the story of Zabdi Gonzalez who, since 2017, has led the MISD English Learner Support Department, and who was herself a newcomer to the U.S. 30 years ago. For part two, we meet Anita Wolf, a 10th grader at McKinney High School…

McKinney, Texas – Five years ago, Anita was the new kid.

New to fifth grade. New to Walker Elementary. New to McKinney, to Texas and new to the country. Adopted by a McKinney couple, Anita left her homeland of Poland and journeyed to McKinney to start a new life.

It was all pretty great at first. The other kids at school were friendly and welcoming. They went out of their way to include Anita and tried to get to know her.

But, she spoke no English, and absolutely nobody spoke Polish, and eventually, the inability to connect left Anita feeling isolated. She tried carrying an iPad and using Google translate to communicate, but she felt conspicuous, and it was embarrassing when the translation didn’t capture Anita’s intended meaning.

Games during P.E. appealed to Anita. “But, I couldn’t play because I didn’t know the games, and they couldn’t explain them to me,” she said. Anita had always been outgoing and social, and it was dispiriting to find herself sitting alone on a swing on the playground. She even struggled to communicate with her new family at home.

Yearbook photo with Anita in the middle in color and students around her in black and white

Sixth grade was a turning point for Anita when she entered the Newcomers class at Faubion Middle School.

Then came sixth grade.

“During my 6th grade year, [Lynda Wolf] became my newcomer teacher [at Faubion Middle School],” said Anita. “She was my first period teacher and my ESL teacher, so we got to know each other. We had a notebook where we wrote, and it was like a texting journal between the two of us. Everybody in the class had a journal like that. We would write down how our day was and stuff like that, so I told her about how my family was doing and all that, and we became really close,” said Anita.

“I have the newcomer students for two periods a day,” explained Wolf. “One block is for the English/Language Arts/Reading (ELAR) section, which is learning about grammar, how to write a sentence in the correct structure—that sort of material—as well as reading fluency and so forth. The other class is language development in which students actually learn what the vocabulary means, what it is that they need to know.”

In Wolf’s classes, Anita found not only language instruction, but also community, a group of friends who could relate to the uphill struggle of trying to master core academic concepts in a foreign language. Through her classes with Wolf and the hours she spent studying on her own at home, Anita’s confidence with English began to grow. And, as she and her classmates gained ground in English, it opened new doors of communication. They couldn’t speak each other’s native language, so English became their common ground, their point of connection.

Wolf at the front of the class teaching

A student answers a question in Lynda Wolf’s Newcomers class at Faubion Middle School.

“A lot of the ESL students became my friends,” said Anita. “My best friend was actually from Venezuela, and she spoke more English than I did; she was always better, and I was always trying to catch up to her. As we learned more and more English, we learned that we had so much in common, and we became best friends. We’re still best friends to this day.”

“We become a family in that class,” said Wolf. “I still have students from my very first year of teaching who are now out of high school who come to see me, and I also have former students that are seniors at McKinney High School who come back and visit me.”

After Anita’s sixth grade year wound to a close, the ensuing summer proved to be pivotal. “During the summer, when I knew a little bit of English,” she said, “my teacher asked me to help her in the classroom. I had a blast with her; it was so fun. We became even closer.”

But, while things were drastically better at school, Anita’s situation at home was not going as well. There were complications with her adoptive family, and her parents came to a difficult decision.

“The parents reached out to me, and they put her up for re-adoption,” said Wolf.

“Whenever she found out that I was up for adoption and that things didn’t work out with with my adoptive family, she was like, ‘I’ll take her,’” said Anita. “I was so very excited.”

“So, Anita’s my daughter from Poland,” said Wolf with a smile. “These students are my babies—literally and figuratively!”

Anita in uniform standing at attention in front of instructor

Anita waits as McKinney High School Marine Corp JROTC Senior Marine Instructor Ron McPhatter (CWO-3, Ret.) speaks to the cadets during class.

Now, Anita is a 10th grader at McKinney High School, with a solid grasp of English, and she’s enjoying life—although she unexpectedly found herself enrolled in a dance class this year. “Ballet? Not my thing,” said Anita candidly. “So, that kind of pushes me out of my comfort zone.”

More comfortable for Anita is her place in the Marine Corps JROTC program. She’s got her eye on a future in the United States Air Force. “I definitely find that [JROTC] is like my family,” she said. “They really include me in everything, and the people in there are awesome. They are super friendly with you, but I do have to say, it’s strict.”

“Anita has her struggles,” said Wolf, “but she’s proud of how far she’s come. We actually ran into her 5th grade teacher, who is now teaching middle school. And, her teacher said, ‘I still remember that I couldn’t even communicate a single sentence with you because you didn’t speak English,’ but now Anita was able to have a full fledged conversation with her. Being able to see our students grow like that…it’s miraculous to see how much they can take in.”

And, to see how far a determined girl from Poland can go in just a few years when she has friends—and family—in her corner.

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