While most students report to Revere High School (RHS) for the start of classes this week, Junior Alejandro Rojas will be reporting to Logan Airport for a 10-hour flight to Amman, Jordan for a year-long study in the prestigious King’s Academy.
He is one of 16 students worldwide chosen for the Arabic Year at King’s Academy. Rojas will attend two semesters at the prestigious school, which was set up years ago by King Abdullah II upon his return from attending Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. The goal is to provide an excellent education to students from around the world and, more importantly, to immerse them in the Arabic language and culture.
It would be quite a trip for any Revere student, but it’s particularly special for Rojas – who came to first grade at the McKinley School without being able to speak English and with some real worries about how he would progress in school.
Now, only a few years later, he is in the top three of his class, a perennial Science Fair champion and now a student who is leaving for a year to go to the other side of the world to learn yet another language.
“It’s just been an adventure for me every since I set foot here,” he said in an interview this week. “It’s been a journey since the first grade learning the English language first with Ms. (Anne) Tyman. I was born here and then went to live in Puerto Rico. From then on, I spend six or seven years of my life speaking Spanish. When I came here, I had to learn English and I learned it pretty well. With English and Spanish under my belt, speaking another language will be very advantageous no matter what field I enter. I wanted either Mandarin or Arabic, and Arabic won out.”
Tyman, who returned to the McKinley School this year to teach after several years at the Garfield, said she remembered Rojas vividly, and knew he would go places – just not places as far away as the Kingdom of Jordan.
“Al is 16 going on 36,” she said. “He came in as a little adult in the first grade. About 10 years ago, I remember a woman coming into my classroom with this little guy and he was wearing a shirt and tie. He was a standout from the first day. He didn’t have a handle on the English language, but he was eager to learn. As much as you gave him, he absorbed and asked for more. As an educator, you can spot children who are destined to rise and Al certainly was one of those.”
His mother, Suzane Croteau, and father, Angel Rojas, said their son has come a long way since stepping into the McKinley School on his first day.
“Alejandro, they thought he wasn’t going to be able to leave first grade without knowing enough English,” said Croteau. “But Ms. Tyman had him reading when he left her class. She did an amazing job. People need to see the work these teachers do and give them the credit they deserve. I’ve seen them work miracles for my own children, as well as the whole community.”
And speaking of miracles, Rojas’s journey to the Kingdom of Jordan is no small miracle in itself.
After having his interest sparked in Arabic studies by his foreign language teacher at RHS, last summer Rojas participated in the intensive Arabic Summer Academy run by the Boston Public Schools at Charlestown High.
Following that incredible experience, he chose to take a stab at the ‘Arabic Year’ study abroad program in Jordan. It was a long shot, but he ended up being accepted to the program last fall.
However, it was apparent right off the bat that funding was going to be an insurmountable barrier.
“We were so excited when we found out I was accepted, but then we found out it wasn’t fully funded,” Rojas said. “We didn’t think it was realistic due to the financial restrictions.”
More than 1,000 miles away, a student in Miami was in the same boat, and she was hitting the airwaves to plead her case for donations to go to the Academy. With her vocal call, she got the attention of the Qatar Foundation – who offered to pay for her to attend the Academy. Come to find out, Rojas and his mother had also been advocating in the same way, but in a quieter fashion. Nevertheless, in finding the student from Miami, the Foundation also found Rojas and were willing to do the same thing for him.
Last Thursday, as he was wrapping up his summer program and getting ready for the school year, the Foundation contacted Rojas and the impossible became reality.
“They felt great about the girl from Miami and wanted to know if there were any other students and that’s how they heard about me,” he said. “They contacted us last Thursday, and then on Friday they made the offer. It hit me really hard. My heart dropped when my mom told me.”
According to Lauren McCollough of the Qatar Foundation, they are not related to the King’s Academy, but they do provide financial support to exceptional high school students in America who want to learn the Arabic language. The Foundation funded more than $12,000 of Rojas’s expenses and tuition, allowing him to make plans to leave this week.
“I’m just getting mentally prepared for this,” said Rojas. “I will certainly miss heading back to Revere High, but going to a campus in Amman is something very different and exciting and sets the stage for going to college and being more independent and self-sufficient.”
Rojas also has a sister in the Revere Schools, Sofia Rojas, of the McKinley School.