Di Moe Manghrin was miserable last year. At Indian Creek Elementary (the school where Bill Clinton Hadam, too, spent an unhappy first year in America), Di Moe told a friend last week, "We couldn't talk." Not in Burmese, anyway.
This year, as a new student at ICS, he's finding things have changed. Last week, Early Intervention Program teacher Mary Ellen Sheehan was out in the hallway with Ma Myint Than, a Burmese sixth grader who arrived for her first day of school in August, after just days in the US, not knowing the word "bus."
A quick study, Ma Myint Than is now speaking in occasional English sentences. Last week she was learning nouns - wall, door - by touching each thing as she and Mary Ellen walked.
They came to a classroom door with colored stars on it. Ma Myint Than couldn't keep the colors straight, so Mary Ellen asked the girl to teach her their names in her language.
Ma Myint Than seemed glad to do so, Mary Ellen says. But she got stuck on "purple."
Htwe Htwe, the Burmese teaching assistant ICS teachers usually ask for help at such moments, was busy in class. But just then, Than Soe, a Burmese fifth grader, passed by on his way to class. Ma Myint Than called him over. He couldn't remember either, but he hung around to help. Then, classmate Soung Oo happened by. He'd forgotten the word as well, but stayed to chat.
All this time, Di Moe was sitting in class across the hall, overhearing the deliberation. Suddenly, he bolted from his seat and out the door. A staff member caught him and was steering him back to class when he blurted out the word in Burmese. The other kids gave "ah!"s of recognition.
The next time she tried, Mary Ellen says, Ma Myint Than knew her colors perfectly.