What We’re Reading | The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

“In a deeper sense, being in this classroom allowed me to ponder what it meant to be fellow human beings who shared one globe, some with privileged lives, and some with lives that were much, much harder.”

― Helen Thorpe, The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

Over the course of the 2015-16 school year, journalist Helen Thorpe followed the lives of 22 immigrant teenagers at South High School as they adjusted to their new lives. The newcomers, ranging from fourteen to nineteen years old, came from nations convulsed by drought or famine or war. Many came directly from refugee camps, after experiencing dire forms of cataclysm. Some arrived alone, having left or lost every other member of their original family.

Four years later, two of the students whose journeys are documented in The Newcomers—brothers Methusella and Solomon Rwabose, now DSF Scholars—are now thriving in their first year of college. The path to college has not been easy for Methusella and Solomon, but it has been paved with their hard work, and support from DSF along the way.

Building a new life in America

“Arriving in Denver was a big accomplishment for my family,” shares Methusella. “I was born in Congo, and we moved to Uganda as refugees when I was young. In all, the process took three years to complete by the time we had arrived.”

A family of ten, the Rwaboses settled into their new community in Denver. Though the transition was difficult, the newcomer class at South High School helped Methusella and Solomon realize they were not alone in the challenges of adjusting to a new life.

“Since we did not go to middle school, it was that much more difficult to transition into high school,” explains Methusella.

After joining the newcomer class at South, the two brothers began to find their footing. Their teacher, Mr. Williams, helped them and their classmates learn English using apps, music, and speaking exercises. Though students in the newcomer class came to South High School from all over the world, they found common ground in their shared struggles and celebrations.

These experiences gave Methusella and Solomon the confidence to look beyond high school and set their sights on college. As first-generation college students, Methusella and Solomon had the wholehearted support of their parents in continuing their education, but needed resources to make it possible. Then, they discovered the DSF Future Center.

A guide to make college possible

“In my senior year of high school, I was in the DSF Future Center all the time,” says Solomon. “As first generation college students, and not knowing how to apply to college by ourselves, our DSF College Advisor, Dante, was a big help.”

“We did not know anything about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or about scholarships like the DSF Scholarship,” adds Methusella. “That changed in the DSF Future Center, with the time we spent in preparing for college.”

Over the course of their senior year, Methusella and Solomon realized that college could be a reality with help from scholarships and financial aid. Dreaming big dreams, they discovered where they wanted to go to college, and what they wanted to study.

Thriving through transitions

“I am in my first year at the University of Denver,” shares Methusella. “I am studying political science. The environment there is very different from South High School, but I learned so much in Mr. William’s newcomer class that I carry with me today.”

In addition to serving in the University of Denver’s undergraduate student government, Methusella also spends his time volunteering with The Bridge Project, a nonprofit that provides a path for youth in Denver’s public housing neighborhoods to graduate from high school and go on to attend college or choose a vocation.

At the Community College of Denver, Solomon has forged his own path, and is pursuing a degree in dental hygiene. Between navigating classes and working full time to support his parents and siblings, Solomon says the added layer of support from his DSF Campus Advisor has helped to increase his sense of stability.

“My DSF Campus Advisor has helped me navigate through the dental hygiene program,” Solomon shares. “Knowing that I have someone to meet with when I have questions makes a difference.”

Though Methusella and Solomon arrived at South High School as newcomers, the opportunity to pursue a college education has rooted their dreams in Denver.

DSF is proud to partner with Helen Thorpe in making college possible for students like Methusella and Solomon. Purchase your copy of The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom online.