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Barbara Aiello


At the age of four, I was introduced to foreign language and culture when my father began taking me to the Philadelphia Navy shipyard.  At the shipyard we met men from around the globe and my dad became friends with sailors from countless countries.  Although we couldn’t understand a single word they said, he frequently invited them to our house for dinner and fellowship.  We exchanged stories with pictures and body language and whatever worked; and mostly we laughed.  We laughed a lot.  I remember these times fondly and I miss the simplicity of the time.  Because of these experiences, I developed a love of all cultures.

My love of learning has translated into a career in education.  I am a high school teacher in an urban area with a very large refugee population.  I’ve had the honor of working with students who have survived unspeakable conditions, found their way to the United States, and are still dedicated to their education.  I learned from them the horrors they had experienced and the obstacles they faced before escaping their tormentors.  Although they had none of these same life threatening situations here in the U.S., they faced the challenge of learning the language and culture of this country.  That was no small challenge, and it could also be life threatening.  I had one student who saw great atrocities and escaped her home country.  After being in the U.S. for over a year and earning straight A’s, I noticed she began losing a significant amount of weight.  After checking with her teachers, I learned that her grades had dropped to failing.  I sent for this girl and asked what was wrong.  In tears, she informed me that her guardian was very ill.  She stayed up all night to watch her so that her guardian wouldn’t die.  They had no idea how to see a doctor, and no money to pay for one.  Since her guardian stopped working, there was no money for food, and thus my student was starving.

Coming from her proud culture, she would not ask for money or help.  It is incumbent on those of us who teach and care for those who are unfamiliar with our culture to ensure they have access to and know about available resources.  My experiences working with refugees will make me more aware; more observant.  I also understand the value of language.  Working with students whose first language is not English allowed me to see just how nuanced our language is.  Words can have so many shades of meaning.  And the single most effective way to learn these is reading.  Read everything!

Barbara’s Bio
Barbara Aiello is a retired teacher from the Upper Darby School District  where she taught business classes to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.  She also led DECA, the school’s marketing club in which several of her student’s reached the level of international competition.  Ms. Aiello received her B.S. in Finance from Philadelphia University and her M.Ed. from Temple University and currently resides in Plymouth Meeting with her husband of 32 years.

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