The Amer­i­can Dream

Hugh­ley ad­vo­cates for non-English speak­ers, bul­lied stu­dents

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Lind­sey Wells, pho­tog­ra­phy by Richard Rasmussen

As a lit­tle girl Wilda Hugh­ley said she dreamed of one day com­ing to Amer­ica from her home coun­try of Haiti. As an adult, she met the man of her dreams, and to­gether, 18 years ago, they made her Amer­i­can dream a re­al­ity.

Hugh­ley met her hus­band, an Amer­i­can mis­sion­ary, while still liv­ing in Haiti. The cou­ple mar­ried and moved to the United States to be closer to his fam­ily back in 2000.

Her move to Amer­ica was not with­out hard­ships, though. She ex­pe­ri­enced em­bar­rass­ment from not be­ing an English speaker and her daugh­ter was bul­lied by her peers at school for be­ing “dif­fer­ent,” al­most to the point of tak­ing her own life.

“It was al­ways my dream to come to Amer­ica when I was a lit­tle girl. My hus­band’s fam­ily lives here, in Min­eral Springs. He was a United Methodist preacher, and he moved us to a church in Hot Springs, so that’s how we ended up in Hot Springs,” she said.

Hugh­ley, a teacher at Hot Springs School District, said the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in Amer­ica is much dif­fer­ent, much eas­ier, than that of Haiti. In Haiti, she said, kids were not al­lowed to ask their teach­ers ques­tions or use cal­cu­la­tors, and ev­ery- thing came at a cost.

“When we came here, I just thought, ‘It is so easy to get an ed­u­ca­tion here.’ The lunch is free, you get to come to school on the buses — in Haiti that is not pro­vided for you; you have to pay for school, you have to pay for lunch, you have to pay to get on the buses, so it was a cul­ture shock for me,” she said.

She en­tered her chil­dren into the Amer­i­can school sys­tem but still had con­cerns based on her own ex­pe­ri­ences of be­ing bul­lied by her class­mates at school.

“When I was at school I was very skinny and tall and the name they used to call me was Olive Oil. I was very, very un­com­fort­able with that. I was scared to go out, I was scared to play with other kids, I didn’t know how to han­dle that,” she said. “It took me al­most un­til I was in 11th grade to re­ally have friends, to re­ally put my­self out there.”

Hugh­ley re­calls be­ing hes­i­tant to leave her son alone at school when he started preschool be­cause she was afraid that he would ex­pe­ri­ence the same prob­lems with not be­ing ac­cepted as she did. She ad­mits fol­low­ing him to school and sit­ting out­side of his class­room to watch over him.

“I was the one out­side the class­room cry­ing and my son was ex­cited to be with his friends. I thought he was go­ing to have a hard time, and I’m the one hav­ing a hard time,” she re­called, laugh­ing.

“Ev­ery day I was in the school wait­ing, and then one day there was a par­ent who came in and didn’t speak any English. She was ask­ing a ques­tion but there was no­body to un­der­stand what she wanted. I said, ‘I know Span­ish,’ and I told them what she needed. The prin­ci­pal said, ‘Since you’re here ev­ery day, maybe you can just stay and help us out,’” Hugh­ley said.

This marked the be­gin­ning of her ca­reer as an ed­u­ca­tor.

She said go­ing into the ed­u­ca­tion field was the right fit for her, first be­cause she en­joyed be­ing home at the same time as her son, but also be­cause she rec­og­nized the need for more bilin­gual teach­ers in the school district.

“I wanted to be­come an ESL teacher in or­der to help, be­cause I saw the way that the stu­dents that speak other lan­guages were just sit­ting on a com­puter, no­body help­ing them. I said, ‘I want to be a voice for them,’ be­cause I know how that feels,” Hugh­ley said. “When you do not un­der­stand the lan­guage, peo­ple feel like you don’t be­long. It’s not be­cause we don’t know any­thing or be­cause we aren’t in­tel­li­gent; it’s just a lan­guage bar­rier. I

be­came a teacher just to get that bar­rier down of think­ing that im­mi­grant peo­ple, or peo­ple that speak an­other lan­guage, are not worth it.”

Hugh­ley started an anti-bul­ly­ing cam­paign in re­sponse to her daugh­ter’s ex­pe­ri­ence with bul­lies in mid­dle school. She said her daugh­ter’s mid­dle school bully went so far that a re­strain­ing or­der had to be placed on her so that her daugh­ter could have a nor­mal life.

“A lit­tle sit­u­a­tion hap­pened to her in mid­dle school and she was bul­lied very bad. It was all over so­cial me­dia, all over school. Fi­nally, she wanted to take her life be­cause she couldn’t take it any­more, it was so much on her,” she said. “My hus­band and I had to find a coun­selor and stuff like that and we were so happy to be able to catch this be­fore she was able to kill her­self. There are so many par­ents that didn’t have a chance to stop it; we are hon­ored to have got­ten that chance and to be ad­vo­cates for anti-bul­ly­ing.”

Hugh­ley said that so­cial me­dia is one of the main cul­prits in bul­ly­ing and in the rise of de­pres­sion among to­day’s teenagers.

“This is what’s killing our teenage life to­day. It’s so­cial me­dia. It’s the way they’re look­ing at how we’re ‘sup­posed’ to be,” she said, adding that at the be­gin­ning of the school year she did an ex­er­cise with her stu­dents dur­ing which she asked them to anony­mously tell her one thing they wanted her to know about them­selves.

Most of her stu­dents, she said, re­vealed that they were de­pressed.

“I told them that beauty is not phys­i­cal, it’s not on the out­side, it’s inside. I said, ‘All of you here have your own beauty. God cre­ated you the way you are for a rea­son. If He made all of us look alike, how bor­ing that would be,’” she said. “It hurts my heart to see that de­pres­sion is get­ting these young kids who have no bills, no re­spon­si­bil­ity, no noth­ing, but they go home and they’re not happy.”

Hugh­ley said she hopes to com­bat these is­sues by be­ing an ad­vo­cate for the kids. She also founded the Miss Vic­to­ri­ous Pageant in 2016, which fo­cuses on in­ner beauty, ac­cep­tance and anti-bul­ly­ing in­stead of ex­ter­nal beauty.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.