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Running to Learn: StoryCorps Records at San Francisco International High School

Posted on Friday, May 24th, 2013.

As Sophia Simon-Ortiz and I lugged the Door-to-Door suitcase up the steps of San Francisco International High School (SFIHS) – located in the Mission District – half a dozen eager high school students rushed by, running into school. The sight impressed me, conflicting with the stereotype of students being more inclined to run away from school.

Not your typical high school, SFIHS is a free, small public school focused on providing a safe, supportive environment that prepares immigrant (or, newly arrived) youth who have recently arrived in the U.S. for college and their careers. Walking up the stairs and down the hall of the school you can hear students calling teachers by their first name, comfortably asking for what they need. In the halls between classes, the bubbly, infectious quality typical of teens explodes in a mix of their first languages and English. All the walls are covered in a mix of traditional and experimental art created by youth who seem to love the opportunity to express themselves.

In my first interview of the day, Alejandra Rodriguez, a sophomore at SFIHS, interviewed Angel Cortes, a senior who is about to graduate. Taking advantage of a rare opportunity to have an intimate conversation, Alejandra shyly asked Angel about the trouble he used to get into when he was her age. His story ensued, beginning with when he left school at the age of ten to work in Mexico, and how he has found himself at SFIHS as a senior looking forward to attending college in the fall.

Angel and Alejandra at SFIHS.

Angel and Alejandra at SFIHS.

Later on, a pair of enthusiastic teens, identifying as “best friends”, interviewed each other about their homelands, Nepal and Mongolia respectively. They ended up comparing how different it is to be a teen in the United States than it would have been to grow up in their home countries.

Udval and Menuka at SFIHS.

Udval and Menuka at SFIHS.

And that is the beauty of SFIHS. While students come from a world of homelands, here they find they have a lot in common. And what better way to collect their stories then through StoryCorps.


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