Amanda Ripley

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The 14 y.o. Who Inspired Me to Leave the Country

15th Aug 2013 posted in Education

The 14-year-old who inspired me to leave the country was named Wilfried Hounyo. I met him while reporting in DC public schools for Time a few years ago. Wilfried's parents had recently moved him and his four brothers and sisters to the U.S. from Benin, a tiny country in West Africa, so that the children could get a better education and have a brighter future.

Wilfried was a shy boy who hunched slightly when you talked to him, as if he'd like to be swallowed up into the ground. But he smiled all the time, even when he tried not to, and he was polite and eager to please. He got straight A's at his DC middle school. His father was working as a dishwasher, and his mother braided hair at a beauty salon. They lived packed together in a small apartment in northwest DC.

One day, sitting on the family's couch talking to Wilfried and his dad, I asked Wilfried what it had been like to transition to school in America. He must have had to work very hard to get such good grades in a language he'd barely spoken when he'd arrived. He smiled, seemingly unaware of how his father must have felt to hear his answer: "No, my DC school is actually easier than my school in Africa."

Read the rest of my post on Ed Week's Global Learning Blog.