“If you can wish for anything, you can do it.”
Those words, from 2017 Omaha Northwest graduate Kalpana Gurung, come near the end of “Seeds of Hope”, the latest documentary from Nebraska Loves Public Schools.
That message, one of hope, reverberates throughout the entirety of the moving, 35-minute exploration into the education of immigrant and refugee students and the adaptation to life in America that those students, and their families, face.
The film is elegant, its subjects direct, genuine, endearing, and most importantly, real. “Seeds of Hope” is powerful, but because of its message, which isn’t built on persuasion or an overly-aggressive tug at the heart strings, but rather simple reality.
Nebraska leads the nation in refugee resettlement, and since 2000 its public schools have seen a 113 percent increase in English Language Learner (ELL) students.
For a student to participate socially, it takes a year and a half to three years of English language study. For a student to acquire language to survive in the classroom academically, it may take seven to 10 years of English language study, as stated in the film.
Nebraska’s ELL teachers don’t have that kind of time, but they have an unmovable devotion to their students. You can almost feel it through the screen at times during “Seeds of Hope”. The plight to teach English through ELL programs to immigrant and refugee students that often have zero previous experience with the language is shouldered by Nebraska’s public schools.
“It doesn’t matter where our students were born, where they came from, or what they have been through, if they live in our school district and within our boundaries, we will welcome that,” said NCSA Ambassador Cinde Wendell, who spent her career in public education, retiring as Superintendent of Holdrege Public Schools in 2011. “Our schools will serve them the best we can.”
“Seeds of Hope” doesn’t go out of its way to place the viewer in the shoes of the students featured. For someone that has never been displaced from their home country, that perspective is impossible to acquire. What it does do is provide other perspectives, ones that previously likely stood unconsidered.
“If you are a person, like many of us are, who has never experienced a change to a new culture and a new language, it’s difficult to understand the challenges that exist for these young people,” said Keith Rohwer, another NCSA Ambassador and retired Superintendent. “It is obvious that Nebraska’s public schools have accepted the challenges of serving these refugee and immigrant students to assist them with bettering their lives and creating futures which will be very productive and fulfilling.”
Kyle McGowan, NCSA Ambassador and former Superintendent of Crete Public Schools, said the film serves as proof that “The American Dream” is alive and well. Education, he added, is the ticket to that success.
“Seeds of Hope displays our nation’s greatest value,” McGowan said. “Work hard, get an education, and the American Dream is yours for the taking.”
McGowan, who, as a former teacher and administrator worked with hundreds of children and families with limited English speaking skills, said he never met an immigrant or refugee student that didn’t have the desire to be a proficient English speaker.
That process is difficult for a variety of reasons. Hurdles are stacked in front of Nebraska’s ELL teachers, but their commitment to their students, as you’ll see in “Seeds of Hope”, far outweighs those obstacles.
“Seeds of Hope” premieres September 13 at Omaha’s Aksarben Cinema and September 14 at The Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln. Both shows begin at 7 and will be followed by a Q&A with director and executive producer Sally Nellson Barrett.
Watch the film trailer: seedsofhopefilm.org
Guest Post: Nebraska Public School Advantage (NPSA) is a reporting collaboration focused on the transformational power of public education. Nebraska Loves Public Schools works closely with NCSA, its Ambassadors and Nebraska Public School Advantage to increase the collective coverage of positive public school stories happening throughout the school year.