Three middle-school-aged boys draw pictures in chalk on a blackboard on a bright Saturday afternoon. “Write the word below the drawing,” I say. The word applegoes under the apple, tree under the tree. Afterward, they practice with vocabulary flashcards for a half hour. At a bathroom break, all three bolt down the hall in search of a soccer ball, teasing each other in Arabic.
They might be eager to learn English, too—but I feel I’ve lost them already.
The three are recent arrivals from war-torn Syria, and have been in the country for only a year. Though the civil war has raged since 2011 with more than 400,000 casualties and millions of refugees, these boys bear little obvious impact of the traumas they’ve been through and the elaborate screening process it took to get here—and we don’t ask. In many ways, they seem like average tweens, enthusiastic and eager to learn.