San Francisco International High School  Logo
Administration Instructional Coaches Counselors Student Support Support Staff Team Solidarity - 9/10th Grade Team Inquiry - 9/10th Grade Team Synergy - 11th Grade Team Limitless - 12th Grade Wellness
Welcome to SFIHS Counseling College Career Financial Aid AB 540 - Dreamers
Learning at SFIHS
SFI Athletics ECO™ Engineering Club IC(International Committee) Gaming Club GSA Peace Club Rock Band Silent Reading Club Tutoring Youth for Community Engagement < ! Y WIT / > Title IX Equity Report
ACE Learning Center
Photos Videos



Meeting the Needs of Kids in the U.S. Who Fled Violence in Central America

By Stell Simonton | February 9, 2016

Youth cited violence as the primary reason for leaving Central America, according to a researcher who interviewed Salvadoran kids who had come to the United States and been deported.

Young people coming from Central America and crossing the southwest border into the United States are fleeing “staggering levels of violence,” said Shaina Aber, policy director of the Advocacy Office of the Jesuit Conference.

Last year, an article in the American Psychological Association’s publicationMonitor on Psychology stressed the need for services to help them recover from trauma and deal with the uncertainties of their lives.

In June, the American Bar Association issued a call to action, saying legal representation for these young people is critical, since they routinely face deportation proceedings.

In El Salvador, the murder rate is up 70 percent, Aber said in a press conference in January.

In the Northern Triangle of Central America — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — “organized crime has infiltrated the highest levels of government,” she said. Last year, 17,500 people were killed, numbers that are just behind the numbers in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.

The situation in the Northern Triangle is “a refugee-producing conflict and needs to be treated as such,” she said.

After a huge surge in the summer of 2014, the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the Mexico border into the United States slowed. But last fall, number rose again. In October and November 10,588 kids came, twice as many as those months last year, and the number coming October through January jumped 171 percent compared to the prior year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

And the number of family members traveling together has tripled, according to the Associated Press.

KIND works to provide fair day in court

‘We’re concerned about the U.S. response,” said Megan McKenna, spokesperson for the nonprofit KIND, or Kids in Need of Defense. “The U.S. has not acknowledged that many of the children are potential refugees.”

KIND works with law firms to get pro-bono legal counsel for unaccompanied kids, who face court proceedings to determine if they may stay in the United States.


Kids coming alone from Central America to the United States should be treated as potential refugees, say the attorneys who volunteer to represent them. Here a pro bono attorney stands with her young client in Los Angeles.

McKenna said the process in the courts is not a fair one because more than half the children don’t have any legal representation, based on figures compiled by Syracuse University. U.S. law does not require that they have legal representation.

Kids who cross the border into the United States are in custody for about a month before a sponsor is found, McKenna said.

When they go to court, they need an attorney to help them explain why they came and make a case for staying.

Kids describe “horrific situations” that led them to leave, McKenna said. They describe a lawless environment, she said.

Lawlessness, poverty, family separation

Many of the 322 Salvadoran kids interviewed by social scientist Elizabeth G. Kennedy reported hearing gunshots nightly. Some lived in contested gang territory. One hundred said their school had gangs inside, and reported teachers and school directors occasionally helping to recruit kids into gangs.

When kids get to be a certain age they are targeted for recruitment into the gang, McKenna said. When they evade joining the gang, they and their family members may be threatened. Girls are sometimes sexually assaulted.

“There is no government protection,” she said. Gangs control whole communities, she said.

Government authorities are also implicated in killings, Aber said.

Based on her survey, Kennedy concluded that violence, extreme poverty and family reunification were the factors driving the youths to migrate. She found that 90 percent of the Salvadoran kids had a family member in the United States. Most cited violence as their primary reason for leaving, with one-third saying their primary reason was to rejoin a parent.

[Related: Aid Scarce for Immigrant Children in South Texas]

Refugee Transitions works with youth after school

Joyce Arellano-Bravo is the after-school program coordinator for the San Francisco nonprofit Refugee Transitions. The agency operates programs at two high schools that serve recent arrivals to the United States, San Francisco International High School and Oakland International High School.

“There are multiple needs,” Arellano-Bravo said.

“Sometimes students start to tell you about their journey,” she said. One 15-year-old girl who made the trip from Central America had stopped going to school in her home country, Arellano-Bravo said. “She was being pressured [by gangs] to choose sides.”

She stayed at home all day because going out was dangerous.

“She couldn’t live like that the rest of her life,” Arellano-Bravo said. She appealed to her uncle and other family members, who paid a smuggler to make travel arrangement to the United States, where she had other relatives.

Arellano-Bravo said her uncle came in the middle of the night, woke her and said: “Get some clothes and let’s go.”

She joined a group of other youngsters, including a teenage mother with a small child, and traveled through Mexico to the U.S. border, where the smuggler left them, saying they would run into immigration agents who would detain them and ultimately unite them with their relatives.

The group wandered for several days in the heat of the desert, running out of food and water.

They were eventually found by border agents, and the girl spent time in a detention center before being sent to relatives in San Francisco.

Safety, academics and enrichment

At San Francisco International High, the after-school program provides academic assistance, enrichment activities and a safe space for kids who may be living in extremely crowded conditions and who may now have to navigate gang-filled streets in their U.S. neighborhoods just to get to school.

The school had an enrollment of 328 students in January, about one-third of whom were unaccompanied minors. With a new wave of unaccompanied minors being settled in, the school got 29 new students in January, Arellano-Bravo said.

About 95 students ages 14 to 22 take part in the drop-in after-school program each day.

“Providing academic support is essential,” Arellano-Bravo said. Kids are trying to learn English and master their homework.

“They’re really trying,” she said. When they are able to show up in class with homework done, they have a sense of accomplishment.

Additional enrichment activities are also very important, she said. Clubs in the after-school program have ranged from yoga to skateboarding to disc jockeying. “You learn English by doing,” she said. Volunteer tutors provide crucial help. “They are a link to American culture,” Arellano-Bravo said.

The youth coming from Central America may not actually know many English-speaking Americans, she said.

“A lot of them have suffered a lot of trauma …  in their home country and on their way here,” she said.

When they arrive, they may be faced with family tensions they didn’t expect.

“It’s a very difficult transition for them,” Arellano-Bravo said. “All of a sudden they’re reunited [after years of separation],” she said.

“Parents try to act like parents to teens,” but they don’t really know each other.

In addition, some students live 10 in a room with other people, she said. Multiple families rent one apartment.

“I’ve heard of people renting a closet [to live in],” Arellano-Bravo said.

Another issue is the vulnerability of kids who are new to the country.

“They are the ideal target for gangs,” she said. They don’t speak English and “they don’t have a community.”

One way the after-school program addresses this is through the club Teen Promotores (promoters). The club helps its members become expert in issues of importance to the Latin American community in San Francisco. The teens then go out in the community armed with information and educate others. For example, the students learned about telephone fraud and then educated others in the community. They also learned crucial information about new immigration laws.

Refugee Transitions also provides a home-based tutoring program. Kids also have access to health care and counseling through a wellness clinic at San Francisco International High.

A network of services is important, Arellano-Bravo said.

SF International High Sees Increase in Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors

On her first day of classes at San Francisco International High School, Jennifer Chavac, an 11th grader, was busy. This is her third year at this school and she’s proven to be a dedicated student. Today, she was in charge of showing City and School District officials what her Science class is like.

Her most important task, however, was serving as a role model for the young immigrant students appearing for their first day of classes—a number that has jumped with the recent increase in unaccompanied minors coming into the United States. The Los Angeles Unified School System expected more than 1,000 new immigrant students, according to the LA Times and the same story estimated that 60,000 unaccompanied minors will be absorbed in school systems across the country.

The entry on the first day of school begins in the most mundane of ways.

“Today is about finding your way around because some teachers don’t have homerooms yet,” Chavac said.

SFIHS opened in 2009 with 37 students and during the school year of 2012-2013, the school had 326 students enrolled. All of the students are recent immigrants and learning English as a second language. The maximum capacity of the school is 400. The school has seen a 25 percent increase in unaccompanied minors enrolling in the last six years—a group that the school has accepted since its inception.

Superintendent Richard Carranza warned that the number of unaccompanied children is surpassing the capacity of schools in San Francisco and that around 150 or more students will be enrolling at other high schools in the city. However, the School District has hired a full-time social worker to be at this school. Teachers and counselors are also trained to see where the children’s needs are and to connect them with services including legal representation and housing assistance.

“A significant amount of children [in our school], about 30% of them are working, cleaning houses or helping relatives. They are working [long hours] to be able to help pay rent,” said principal Julie Kessler.

School and city officials hope to spark a conversation nationwide on successful solutions aimed towards supporting the unprecedented wave of unaccompanied migrant minors that have been arriving to California ready to start the school year.

District 9 Supervisor David Campos visited on the first day and recalled, “I was the lawyer for the school before and the establishment of this institution is an achievement,” he said.

Campos said he was in the Federal Immigration Court to make sure that the rights of immigrant children are protected and that they have access to fair legal representation.

Back in the Science classroom, Chavac, 16 years old, explained to Campos and Carranza that the newcomers to the school are helped by the returning students.

Campos shared his story with Chavac, telling her in Spanish that he too came from Guatemala when he was 14 not knowing how to speak English. “But you can’t give up, don’t give up. You just keep working hard, and you will see,” he said finishing of with an encouraging “Sí se puede, sí se puede.”

Educators, Youth Advocates Tackle Bullying


Reaching across cultural and language barriers, immigrant students at the San Francisco International High School have compiled profiles of individuals working to solve a problem the students are personally affected by or interested in. This group of change-makers is helping to reduce bullying.

Holly Pederson



Holly Pederson is from Davis, California. She works at Jewish Family and Children Services (JFCS). Holly has worked there for about four years. This organization provides training about school bullying so teachers, parents and kids can know what bullying is and how to prevent it.

More About Our Change-maker

“I feel like it’s important work, so I feel good that I’m helping. I also feel a lot of sadness that bullying is happening. I feel concerned that it will continue to happen, but I feel good that I’m doing this work…[it’s] sad that kids have to have the experience of bullying, so when I talk about bullying, I think about the kids I’ve known who have been bullied and it makes me sad that they had to go through that.”

What You Can Do To Help
If you want to stop or prevent bullying, or if you see bullying you can tell the teacher or talk to the teacher about what you saw.

Student Group:
Carlos Diaz,14, is from El Salvador. Tania Santos, 16, is from Mexico. Katherine, 17, is from Honduras.

Vlada Teper



Our group interviewed Vlada Teper. Vlada works at San Francisco International High School. She also runs an organization to help schools to build peace. She has been working to support peace clubs and working to stop bullying for nine years. She also teaches 11th grade at SFIHS.

More About Our Change-Maker

Vlada Teper had a very interesting and sad experience with bullying. She told us, “The most difficult part of my life was to have to leave Moldova because there was discrimination against Jews—and my family is Jewish. I was not allowed to be in contact with my friends from there for 10 years. That felt very painful and unfair—that my family had to leave a home where my family lived for many generations. This experience inspires me to work to end discrimination and unfair treatment of others.”

What You Can Do To Help
If you want to help change the problem of bullying, you can look at the person bullying in the eyes and tell him to stop. You can also talk with your teacher or parents and tell the people you have to stop the bullying.

Student Group
Axel, 14, is from Mexico. Guillermo, 16, is from Mexico. Ronaldo , 17, is from El Salvador. Ricardo, 17, is from Mexico. Javier, 17, is from El Salvador.


Karina Gonzalez Ugur



Our group interwed Karina Gonzalez Ugur. She comes from Instituto Familiar de la Raza. She has been working there for almost four years. Her job is to help youth. She works with youth who have problems, probation or even who were suspended from school, and she helps them to get better. Another interesting fact is that she works with students who have problems mentally and physically and she helps them to get better. She enjoys helping others so that we can improve our community.

More About Our Change-maker

“Bullying is something dear to my heart; I think all youth should be treated equally. It is not okay that other kids need to feel afraid, and definitely it is not okay to put down or harass other students.”

“A youth becomes a bully when in their environment they are being bullied; it can be by their parents or even a sibling. Maybe they think that they are not being accepted, maybe friends show them that they are not worth it.” I really liked when she said this because I know a lot of people who go through this, too. I think Karina is a person to follow because she is doing a great thing; she helps a lot of youth who have been bullied physically and verbally.

What You Can Do To Help

If you want to help change the problem of bullying, don’t wait too long. You can stop bullying by talking with adults. You can also help and identify children who are bullied. You can help kids understand what bullying is, keep a good relationship with your children, encourage kids, and show them how they can treat others with kindness, respect and courtesy. Remember that everybody who is around you is part of your community.

Student Group

Jasson Enriquez, 15, is from Guatemala. Armando, 17, is from Guatemala. Jonathan, 16, is from Salvador. Diego, 15, is from Peru.


Georgina Gutierrez


My group interviewed Georgina Gutierrez. She is from San Francisco. She is working in Instituto Familiar De La Raza. She works on different topics, including bullying, for six years with those from 12-24 years old. She gives them case management services where she meets individually one time a week to try to set goals to try to help them get any service that they need.

More about Our Change-Maker

Georgina Gutierrez told us a powerful story that shows how she has helped people who are bullied. Georgina was working with a young girl who was bullied because other students were telling Georgina’s client a lot of ugly nasty things. The young lady decided to talk with Georgina. Georgina listened to the girl and Georgina asked her if it was okay to share this information with her family and school staff, and the girl says yes. Then Georgina and her client had a meeting that was anonymous. Georgina was able to speak for the young lady who was bullied with school staff. They all decided that the students who were bullying would stop and if they did not stop, they would have to meet with parents and maybe be suspended. Finally Georgina introduced her client in a group where she was supported. Now she will trust in other people and herself. This story is important because this shows how the people who are bullied have fear to speak for themselves and sometimes don’t talk with someone about what is happening. This story was different because people like Georgina helped her talk about it and find a solution.

What You Can To Do To Help

If you are a teacher or you work with young people and you want to help to change the problem of bullying, you can make a support group for the youth who are being bullied and try to make a space for them to talk about the situation and what’s going on. Another thing you can do to help is help support the mission of ending bullying in school and you can donate to No Bully at this website. If you need help you can call this number (1-866-488-7386).

Student Group:
Avelyn Atienza 16, is from the Philippines. Alex Sorto, 17, is from Honduras. Guadalupe Del Carmen, 16, is from El Salvador. Angel Rodriguez, 16, is from Mexico. Jefferson Tejada, 16, is from El Salvador.

Tobias Rugger



Our group interviewed Toby Rugger. He is from New York, United States. He is a teacher for San Francisco International High School. He has taught for 11 years in New York, SF and Oakland. He teaches 9th and 10th grade for immigrant students who come to this country and he helps them with problems. When he sees students bullying each other with bad words or one bad word in Spanish or Chinese, he stops the problems. He thinks this is very important.

More About Our Change-Maker

Toby told us an interesting story that shows how he tries to helps stop bullying in schools. “If two students are bullying each other, then one or both students is not learning, so it is important to stop bullying in order to make people feel safe so they can learn.”
After Toby told us this, I stopped to think and ask myself, “Why do people bully? And what is fun about bullying?”

What You Can Do To Help

Treat everyone with respect.

Student Group
Nycolas, 15, is from Brazil. Abbie, 17, is from China. Erick, 18, is from Mexico. Elias, 16, is from El Salvador.


Denise Martell



Our group interviewed Denise Martell. She is from Los Angeles, California. She studied to be a school worker at San Jose State University. She works at San Francisco International High School. She has worked on this topic for about six to seven years. She is a school social worker in the Wellness Center, SFIHS. She helps students by solving their problems. Students often times come to get help from her on problems about bullying.

More About Our Change-Maker

Denise told us an interesting example that shows how she helps students at school who are being bullied. She wants people to know that bullying is very common at school so it’s very important to talk about what’s going on when someone is being bullied. She said that young people can make change by “speaking out to someone who they trust.” She helps the students by talking to the bully and the students who are being bullied to solve their problems and she makes both students feel better.

What You Can Do To Help

If you want to help change the problem of bullying, you should accept different cultures and different people.If you want more information, you can go to or call 415-767-0070.

Student Group:

Princess Joanne Real, 14, is from the Philippines.  Ruth Gaby Barrera, 17, is from Guatemala. Alan Li, 16, is from China. Anderson De Jesus, 14, is from El Salvador.

International Students Study Gang Violence

By Lisseth Cortez and Cristhian Sevilla, 

Some of them have only been in the country a few months, but students at the San Francisco International High School are already tackling difficult topics that transcend borders. Each student has selected a “Changemaker,” someone who, in their eyes, is solving the problems these students care about most. In this ongoing series, Mission Local presents their stories and their profiles of their heroes.

Gang violence around the world is often motivated by racial or ethnic conflict, money, and respect or power. The detailed descriptions of groups considered gangs vary, but across international boundaries, gang members are recruited at very young ages and inducted into a club that multiplies their chance of being murdered, becoming a victim of violence, and participating in serious crimes. These are two of the students who have chosen to focus on this topic for their Changemaker projects.

Lisseth Cortez

My name is Lisseth Cortez. I am from El Salvador. I am 15 years old. I have been living in the United States since 2012. Now I’m a freshman at SFIHS and I’m a English learner.

Gang violence is important to me because it affects many people all around the world. For example, my country has been deeply affected by problems with the maras. In the cities, even though the gangs such as: MS and the 18 gang know our country is poor, they still continue killing people, robbing and they do almost the impossible to have what they want. This problem affects gangsters too, putting their lives in danger when they have problems with other gangs or when the police put them in jail so they can stop doing bad things. In some cases teenagers become gangsters too, and not always because they are bad but because in life they have found really big problems.

In particular, I have experienced an ugly reality that now is so common that some people are used to it. When I was around 7 or 8 years old, a man near my house was killed by a guy from a different gang in the same town. That evening they were drinking alcohol at the store, which was actually my neighbor’s store. My aunt and I went to buy some stuff and we saw the guy on the floor. When we got closer to where he was we saw the back of his head covered with blood. When I saw that I got so scared that I couldn’t even move at all. His friends told us that the guy who killed him buried the knife in his head while fighting. The cut was big enough that I could even see the inside part of his head. I had nightmares every night and I still have them, sometimes.

I wanted to share this because this is something that is ruining our young people and I also wanted to tell them that joining gangs is not a way to overcome their problems that they might feel good right now, but what will you get in the future? What about if later on you want to get out of gangs, but you are so used to it that it can be hard to leave? Will you find a good job if you are not academically prepared? Will you be able to support your family? I don’t think so.

 Cristhian Sevilla

My name is Cristhian. I am from Honduras and I’m 16 years old.

This problem is important for me because in my home country this problem affects everyone. This problem affected me so much because the neighborhood that I lived in was so dangerous. Where I lived, there were three neighborhoods surrounding my neighborhood. The three neighborhoods were controlled by gangs and those gangs used violence against people who lived there. The gangs fought almost everyday to control the area.

I want that this problem to change in the way that all the people in my home country can be equal. I want all of them to have a job because basically people go into gangs because they need money or want power. Another way for this to change is for parents to take care of their children and control them.

The number of kids attempting the dangerous journey by themselves has tripled.

| Mon Dec. 23, 2013 6:00 AM EST

Audelina Aguilar set off on the six-week journey along the migrant trail at 14, leaving her parents and nine younger siblings behind in the highlands of rural Guatemala. She rode atop Mexican freight trains, from Chiapas in the south to Tamaulipas in the north. She fought off a would-be rapist with the help of the only other woman in the group, who screamed, "She's a baby!" She walked through the South Texas wilderness for four days, trying to steer clear of the assailant, who was still with the group, and of the human remains they encountered along the way.

They were led by a coyote, and her 16-year-old cousin was with her, but other than that Aguilar was on her own. "When I left my country," she told me, "I said, 'I know God is going to be with me, and everything is going to be okay.'"

Eventually Aguilar made it to San Francisco, where her 16-year-old brother lived. They stayed with an aunt, but soon moved out, not wanting to burden her. Aguilar went to work to pay back another aunt in Alabama who'd handled her smuggling fee, first as a babysitter and later on the crews that clean huge hillside homes with views of the bay. She usually got bathroom duty. Hardly anyone asked why she wasn't in school.

Her journey is not unusual. Over the past five years, the number of undocumented children—mostly teens, but some as young as five—apprehended crossing the border without parents or guardians has tripled, rising from 8,041 in fiscal year 2008 to 24,481 in fiscal 2012, with a 52 percent increase from 2011 to 2012 alone. Countless others, including Aguilar, made the trip without getting caught.

A major factor in the increase, known simply as "the surge" to government officials and child-welfare advocates, appears to be the rise in gang violence in Central America. The number of Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran children crossing alone has skyrocketed in recent years, even as the number of Mexican kids has held steady. "What's alarming is that there's an increasing number saying they're fleeing forcible gang recruitment and gang violence," says Elizabeth Kennedy, a San Diego State University researcher who studies unaccompanied child migrants. "They were being forcibly recruited into the gangs and didn't want to be a part of it, and so they had to flee because threats had been made on them or their family members."

That's exactly what happened to two of Aguilar's younger brothers back in their hometown of La Cumbre; one came to the United States last year, at 17, while the other, 16, crossed the border a couple of months ago. As the authors of a 2012 Women's Refugee Commission report (PDF) on the surge wrote, "Until conditions for children in these countries change substantially, we expect this trend will be the new norm."

When apprehended, kids trying to cross the border are treated differently than adults: Instead of being placed in immigration detention, they are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. While seeking to reunify the kids with US-based family during their deportation proceedings, ORR puts them up in shelters run by nonprofit subcontractors like Catholic Charities. (When I first met Aguilar in September, her brother had just left Guatemala; the second time we spoke, he'd just been caught; the third time, recently, he'd just arrived in San Francisco after his stay in an ORR facility.)Still, unaccompanied children barely register in the national immigration debate, where most of the talk about youth has focused on the DREAM Act, the proposed legislation that would legalize some undocumented immigrants brought to the country as kids. (It would require five years of residency and a high school diploma, disqualifying most of these more-recent migrants.) Legal-aid groups have pushed reforms such as government-appointed lawyers for unaccompanied children. Many of them, advocates note, actually qualify for asylum or other legal relief, but will never know it because they don't have legal representation.

Journalists aren't allowed into the shelters "for safety reasons," an ORR spokeswoman told me. But Susan Terrio, a Georgetown University anthropologist currently writing a book about unaccompanied children, visited 19 of them over a four-year period. She says she was surprised to find an almost hermetically sealed system: "The kids were never left unattended. They went to school inside, they played sports inside, and they only got out for supervised outings in the community or for medical and mental-health appointments."

"You walk by, and you think it's just an old nursing home," says one child-welfare advocate, "and it's actually all these immigrant kids inside."

Maria Woltjen, director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, says that as a result, unaccompanied children are essentially invisible: "Nobody in Chicago knows there are 400 kids detained in our midst. They're just in [former] nursing homes—you walk by, and you think it's just an old nursing home, and it's actually all these immigrant kids inside."

While many child-welfare advocates are hesitant to criticize the ORR facilities for fear of being shut out of them, the shelters did come under scrutiny in 2007, when ORR removed kids from a Texas facility after a female guard was accused of sexually assaulting four minors. (She was later convicted.) In the summer of 2012, lacking enough beds to deal with the influx of Central American children, ORR temporarily housed hundreds in emergency dormitories at Lackland Air Force Basein San Antonio. According to the Women's Refugee Commission report, "the facility looked and felt like an emergency hurricane shelter with cots for beds and portable furniture." (The base no longer houses children.)

In fiscal 2011, ORR had 53 shelters that housed 6,560 kids. In 2012, those numbers increased to 68 and 13,625; in 2013, there were 80 shelters and 24,668 unaccompanied children. The majority are in states along the Mexican border, hours from big cities, which means it's even harder for kids to find legal representation—and stave off being sent back to the dangerous situations they fled.

ProBAR, a pro bono project that specializes in representing unaccompanied children, is based in the South Texas border city of Harlingen, a half hour west of Brownsville. When I visit its office in mid-December, I meet with managing attorney Kimi Jackson, who says the number of beds ProBAR serves jumped from 369 in September 2011 to 1,187 in September 2013.

Jackson says the government has been reunifying unaccompanied kids with family members faster than ever before—the average shelter stay has fallen from 72 days in 2011 to 45 days. That's good for the kids, but it has complicated ProBAR's work: It means less time to tell them about their rights and screen them about their experiences to build a case against deportation. "We are not able to provide the same services that we used to, because there just isn't time," Jackson admits.

So ProBAR's paralegals go in groups to give their presentations and screen hundreds of kids at a time, listening to countless heartrending testimonials. The attorneys scour their notes, trying to decide whom to represent and whom to refer to other nearby pro bono lawyers. "I can only read so many of them in one sitting," Jackson says, "because it's emotionally exhausting."

And even after unaccompanied kids link up with family members, they're still vulnerable—to abuse, to trafficking, to exploitation by employers. After two years of working full time, bringing home as little as $25 a day after transportation costs, Audelina Aguilar ended up in the hospital one day with severe abdominal pain. The nurses told her she had an ovarian inflammation; when they found out that her parents were back in Guatemala, they made the teen swear that she'd stop working and enroll in school.

That's how she landed at SFIHS. Now in its fifth year, it's a public alternative school in the Mission District that serves recently arrived immigrants. Some are fleeing a civil war. Others endured traumatic border crossings or time locked up in immigration detention. The vast majority, says Principal Julie Kessler, are suffering from some form of PTSD.

"They are absolutely the most resilient, wonderful, resourceful, and motivated group of kids that we have," says SFIHS principal Julie Kessler.

She estimates that roughly 20 percent of her students came alone. They live in shelters or group homes, or have figured something out with a relative, or live by themselves. "They are absolutely the most resilient, wonderful, resourceful, and motivated group of kids that we have," Kessler says.

That's Aguilar. After enrolling in school, a lawyer at Legal Services for Children helped her become a legal resident. Her older brother started working, allowing them to move into a studio apartment by themselves. She only spoke Spanish when she started at the school as a ninth-grader; now, at 20, she talks to me almost exclusively in English—about missing the Mayan skirts she left behind in Guatemala, about the stress of being the de facto mother to her three brothers, about balancing schoolwork with her new job at Old Navy.

In the last month Aguilar has finished up applying for colleges—the University of California-Berkeley is at the top of her list—and received a prestigious scholarship for economically disadvantaged students. Still, there's the thousands of dollars she borrowed to pay for the passage of the brother who just arrived, as well as the money she'll need to get him an attorney. And there are seven more siblings, and her parents, to think about back home in La Cumbre.

"We don't have Dad and Mom to take care of us," she says. "If we need something, we don't have that. We just have to wait until we have what we want."

This project was made possible by a fellowship from the French-American Foundation—United States.


大學放榜 應屆高中畢業生分享心情




羅嘉俊和龐凱文是舊金山聯合校區International High School(國際高中)的應屆畢業生。兩個人幾年前才從中國移民來美,都是家中第一代將會唸大學的成員。

羅嘉俊收到Santa Cruz加大和聖荷西州立大學的錄取通知,他說:“很興奮和開心。來了美國4年,能進大學感到很高興。”






By Jeremy Balan

In just its second year of varsity competition, the San Francisco International High School boys soccer team has already done something multiple longer-standing Academic Athletic Association programs have yet to achieve.

With a 2-0 win over Balboa on Thursday at the Crocker Amazon Soccer Fields, the Huskies won their first postseason game in school history.

“It feels great, because last year we just missed the playoffs,” said SFI senior Medhanie Berih, who was born in the small African country of Eritrea and embodies the team’s global roots (all SFI students are internationally-born). “It’s a dream come true. We’re getting closer and closer to a championship.”


Berih, a sure-footed midfielder, created some scoring opportunities, but it was standout sophomore forward Scharly Alvarez that had a hand in both goals. The first, just seconds before the halftime whistle, changed the entire complexion of the game.

On one of many long balls from SFI’s defensive half that targeted the speedy sophomore upfield, a Balboa defender bodied Alvarez just as he entered the penalty area and knocked him to the turf. The referee immediatley awarded a penalty kick.

SFI senior forward Eduardo Hernandez deposited the penalty into the low, left-hand corner of the net to give the Huskies (9-4-3) a 1-0 lead at the break.

“It was shoulder to shoulder, with a little guy going against a bigger guy,” said Balboa head coach Juan Guzman. “The ref is always going to go with the smaller guy. There was a similar situation in the second half, where they bumped into each other, but he didn’t call the same thing. That was supposed to be in our favor, but we can’t rely on the refs.”

The Bucs (7-5-1) struggled to create scoring opportunities for the first 70 minutes, but amped up their offensive pressure in the final 10. Balboa forward Jose Meza had three chances to equalize, including a bicycle-kick volley with his back to the net that was saved by SFI goalkeeper Kelvin Perez.

With Balboa pressing, Alvarez finally broke through on another long ball from the Huskies’ defensive half in the 78th minute. Likely intended to be a simple clearance, Alvarez outran the lone Balboa defender back, collected the bouncing ball 30 yards away from the net and calmly chipped the it over charging Balboa goalkeeper Carlos Orellana and into the net on one bounce.

The fourth-seeded Huskies will now take on top seed Mission, which was in attendance to watch the game, in the AAA semifinals on Tuesday. Mission won the regular-season meeting between the two teams 5-2.

“They have a good team, but we have a chance,” said SFI head coach Angel Rodriguez. “We lost in the regular season, but right now, it’s another game.”

Washington 5, Lincoln 4 (OT)

The sixth-seeded Eagles (8-5-0) avenged a 2-1 regular-season loss to the third-seeded Mustangs (11-4-3) in thrilling fashion.

The teams were tied 2-2 at the half and 3-3 at regulation, then Rusbel Sanchez scored the first overtime goal to give the Eagles a 4-3 lead. Lincoln freshman Adrian Torres scored moments later to knot the game up at 4-4, but Sanchez struck again to send Washington to the AAA semifinals, where they will meet second seed Lowell.

Washington’s Giovanni Baraja scored all three of the Eagles goals in regulation.

Mission Local

Who Is San Francisco International High School?


Mission Loc@l is encouraging Mission students to participate in the news site. Over the next month, we’ll be developing our student contributor blog.

Hello, and welcome to San Francisco International High School!

Everyone is asking, “Who is San Francisco International High School?”

SFIHS is a new school that’s in its third year, with just ninth-, tenth- and eleventh-grade students. A school for recent immigrants, it prepares and inspires students in high school for college and beyond.

We are 200 students from different countries and cultures, and speak more than 12 languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Vietnamese.

So what makes SFIHS unique?

Well…it’s how we learn, the friendships that we make, and the relationships that we develop with teachers. Some students say they like the school because they can have good communication with their teachers, while other students say they like how students act with empathy. They say it is the students that make SFIHS.

The school gives a lot of support and guidance to its students, and always gives students the opportunity to challenge themselves in and out of the classroom. In class, students are expected to be leaders, guiding and helping others to understand assignments. Out of class, students have the opportunity to join many extracurricular activities, and the majority of students are involved.

SFIHS has a young men’s soccer team that began two years ago. The boys are brave because they have to play with older and more experienced players. The primary purpose of the soccer team is to encourage students to do well in school. The soccer team practices every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and plays games every Tuesday and Thursday. The team has already played five games, putting forth all its energy and effort for each game.

To end, as many students say, SFIHS is an amazing place for recent immigrants.

Edith Melendez, from El Salvador, has been in the United States for four years. She is an English language learner at SFIHS. “I love to be active and I am willing to try new things in life even though they seem hard,” she said. “I honestly think that my school is amazing, because everyone can develop and discover their own skills, and also we can conserve our cultures and language ability.”