English Feature #7-33863 Broadcast July 3, 2000

American high school students are generally teenagers. They enter ninth grade when they are fourteen or fifteen years old, and as a rule graduate at age eighteen. In one high school in the Washington area, however, the students are considerably older. Most are immigrants seeking a high school diploma as a means to a better life. Today on New American Voices, you'll hear about this school and its diverse, and highly motivated, students.

Pimmit Hills High School is located in a green, leafy residential neighborhood in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington.

"Pimmit's a great school for everybody, and especially for those people who want to finish their high school, like people come to this school from all over the place because they want to get their high school diploma so they can go on in life and be a professional in the future."

Nineteen-year-old Salvadorean Emmanuel Hernandez is a member of Pimmit's unusual student body. Pimmitt Assistant Principal Bud Mayo says it's marked by its diversity.

"During the day we have about 400 students, and these students come to us from all over the world. Sixty different countries or more are represented in the student body. The majority of our students, 85 percent or more, are students who are older who for a variety of reasons have come to us to get a high school diploma. As a group of people, they're very well motivated. Our older students, our 19 to 25-year-olds, make up over 200 of our student body. And we also have twenty-seven students who are older than age 30. Our oldest graduate has been 52."

The general curriculum at Pimmit is the same as in any other high school in Northern Virginia. But to accommodate students with families and full-time jobs, classes at Pimmit run from 7:45 in the morning to 9:30 at night. Students can take as many or as few subjects as they wish. Although the background, the life experiences, and the goals of the students vary widely, the motivation is pretty much the same.

"My name is Luz Marina. I come from Colombia. I live here six years. I want to be a good designer because I like to do clothes. I have three children. I married nineteen years ago. I hope to finish my school in the next year. I try to do the best I can."

Luz Marina is thirty-nine years old, and two of her children are in high school, like their mother. Several other older students in the 11th-grade English class at Pimmit Hills that Mrs. Marina attends talked about themselves and their goals.

"My name is Anna Perez, and I'm from El Salvador. I came here 1994. I got two children. I quit school for three years and a half."

And what made Ana decide to come back to high school?

"For me, a better life, better job. My children - a good example for them." ** "My name is Gunav, and I'm from Pakistan. I speak Urdu. I have been in this country for two years, and I work part-time in Safeway as an assistant manager. After finishing high school I want to go to college and study medical to become a doctor." ** "My name is Shams, okay, and I represent Afghanistan. At home I speak Pashto, that's my native language. I speak it with my parents, because I want to keep this language, I don't want to forget my language. I work at Sears as a sales associate, and I make good money. My goal is to go to college, finish my major, what I wanna be, you know. I want to be a computer technician, because I love computers, and I want to play with computers all the time." ** "I'm from Jerusalem, I was born in Jordan, I've been here two years and a half, and I'll be graduating, I want to study international business, I want to be a businesswoman - oh, my name is Heba, by the way (laughs). I work at Home Depot, full time, I work at MacDonald's as a supervisor, part time, and I come to school."

These are typical Pimmit Hills students, trying to balance school and family and work obligations. Assistant Principal Bud Mayo says the goals that that the school sets for itself in providing a secondary education to immigrant adults are the same as any high school in America.

"We want to make sure that we provide them with an education that gives them life skills, that they can go on and be good citizens, that they can go on and have families and be successful and have a good life, a good living, and they can proceed to higher education if they want to. We want to make sure that they are well-grounded, that they have the basic education that will let them be successful."

Tomorrow is American Independence Day. Each year on July 4th many communities hold naturalization ceremonies for new American citizens. Next week in this program you'll hear from some of the people who will be sworn in as new Americans tomorrow.