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Adjusting to American Schooling, New Student Finds Support from Peers, Staff 

Siddh M. in front of Pacific Cascade Middle School.

Editor’s note: This article is part of an occasional series designed to highlight student voices and experiences from throughout the district.      

When Pacific Cascade Middle School eighth grader Siddh M. left his home country of Malaysia to move to the United States in the summer of 2022, he didn’t know what to expect.  

“There are so many unique personalities [at Pacific Cascade]. ... I found out that so many people liked soccer,” says Siddh, who also enjoys playing the sport.   

Since arriving, he said he has been able to find similarities between himself and his new community but noted that the transition took some time.  

“I cried when I found out I was moving,” says Siddh, reflecting on the moment he found out he was leaving Malaysia.  

The news came after his mother had accepted a job offer that required them to move to Washington.  

“I felt happy, and sad,” says Siddh, explaining that he didn't want to leave his family and friends behind – particularly his grandma and grandpa. 

He wishes he could spend more time with them.     

Despite feeling homesick, he says he’s proud of his mother and her new role, and that at the time, the thought of moving to a new place excited him.  

His family settled in the Issaquah School District because it's close to his mother's new job.  

At the time of writing this article, about a year has passed since Siddh first arrived in the United States and nine months since he first started attending Pacific Cascade – where fellow students and staff at the school have helped him in the transition.  

“People are very friendly,” he says.  

At the beginning of his time at Pacific Cascade, Siddh recalls thinking to himself: “This school is huge,” sharing that he knew he needed help to find his classes.  

He credits Arjun H., one student he befriended, for helping him navigate the school.  

Siddh also said he appreciates another friend, Jinmo N., for helping him learn about the education system.  

“Jinmo taught me how American schools work,” he says.  

Coming from Malaysia, Siddh was unfamiliar with the concept of moving from classroom to classroom – to learn different subjects from separate teachers – but the welcoming students, like Jinmo, made it less overwhelming.  

Another friend that Siddh developed a close bond with is Oliver W., who he said he considers a brother.  

“He is a person who has taught me many things about the social culture here and soccer. ... He treats me like a sibling.”  

Siddh said he admires Oliver’s humble nature, and has nicknamed him “Rooney” (after former professional soccer player Wayne Rooney) – alluding to their shared love for the sport.  

The staff at Pacific Cascade have also made an impact on Siddh’s experience here.  

“Ms. Miranda helped with the change of environment... She helped me when kids were not welcoming.”  

Miranda Williams is Siddh’s counselor at Pacific Cascade.   

When asked to name one of the biggest challenges that incoming middle school students face when they arrive at their new school, Williams mentions building peer connections.  

“At PCMS, we utilize our leadership students and WEB leaders to help make positive peer connections.  We also run a Connections Group to help foster peer connections, hold new student lunches and encourage participation in sports or after school clubs that may sound interesting,” says Williams. The WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) is a program built upon the belief that students want to, and can, help other students succeed. WEB Leaders are trained by staff and are then connected with sixth graders who share the same Lynx Life class. Leaders help facilitate the school’s sixth grade orientation, which is filled with activities geared toward improving student relationships and academic success.  

While Siddh has been able to find a place at PCMS, there have still been difficult moments when he sought out the counseling team. Moments like this are when he sees value in visiting school counselors.  

“Go to counselors, because not only can they give good advice, but they can solve problems too,” says Siddh.  

He suggests students visit their counselor once a month when they are feeling stressed or are struggling.  

Siddh also gives a shout out to teachers like Allan Batchelder because he's funny and really took time to get to know him.  

He describes Batchelder as someone who makes him feel comfortable.  

“He takes the initiative to learn about where I come from,” which Siddh says makes him happy because not many people know about Malaysia.  

Batchelder says Siddh is a tremendous addition to the community.  

“His zest for life, and his love of both his native culture and his adopted culture make him a fascinating conversationalist” says Batchelder.  

“Upon arriving at our school, he made friends in record time and found common ground with countless classmates and more than a few of his teachers. He is a fearless volunteer for any activity or exercise a teacher might assign, too, modeling the kind of engagement we all dream of.”  

Principal Jeff McGowan also says that Siddh has made an impression on him: “He is helpful, kind to everyone, and a hard worker. I have enjoyed chatting with him to gain his perspective on schooling in America and areas that we can improve PCMS.”   

Beyond the counseling team and teachers, McGowan says it’s the responsibility of all staff and students to welcome new students who are moving into the district.  

“Administration, certificated/classified staff, [and the] student body – we all play a role. I think that each new student arrives with unique needs and so I believe it is our job to meet with new students and their family to make a connection and see how to best support them,” he says.  

One resource that McGowan mentions for new PCMS students and families is the New Student Ambassador program, which pairs new students with current student leaders on their first day at the school to help them find their classes, answer questions, have someone to eat lunch with and have a student connection.  

The district also offers access to Family Partnership Liaisons, who help new (and current) students and families with understanding and navigating the U.S. public school system.   

After hearing about the students and staff that he’s met along the way, Siddh was asked to rate his ISD experience on a scale of 1-10, where “1” is the worst experience and “10” is the absolute best. He gave the district a “9.9” out of 10 – removing a tenth of a point because middle school classrooms can get a bit noisy at times.   

“There are some kids I get frustrated with for making so much noise in class, which makes it hard to focus,” says Siddh.  

The other “9.9” points are a reflection of the exciting experiences he’s had thus far.  

The students, the lunch and the teachers are personal highlights of his.  

“The way teachers teach is very unique and I like how they are very fun here.”  

While Siddh is still adjusting to his new life in America, he’s enjoying his new friends and navigating a new schooling environment.  

 

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