This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Shalia Alejandro moved to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico when she was 6, just about the age that kids are starting to read.
Unlike her peers, though, she was also trying to learn a new language and new customs. The swirl of unfamiliar things left her confused and lacking confidence.
“A lot of times, it was really discouraging seeing everyone speak English and you’re just off in the corner like, ‘OK, I need to find a way to be able to relate to them,’ ” she said.
She broke through in 2nd grade, under the tutelage of a teacher who would give students an hour or more simply to read and grow more comfortable with books.
Today, Alejandro is a confident high school senior at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School who plans to work in early childhood education some day. After school, she goes back to her alma mater, William Cramp Elementary in North Philadelphia, and employs the same strategy that her 2nd-grade teacher used.