Teacher inspires immigrant’s confident communication

Thomas Jefferson High School sophomore Daniel Ahn. - Margo Horner/The Mirror
Thomas Jefferson High School sophomore Daniel Ahn.
— image credit: Margo Horner/The Mirror

Daniel Ahn barely spoke English when he arrived in Federal Way from South Korea a year and a half ago.

He left his parents behind, moved in with his grandmother and began to attend classes at Thomas Jefferson High School.

At 14 years old and living in an unfamiliar country, Ahn was alone.

His first friend was Ausra Hawkridge, a teacher at Thomas Jefferson who works with immigrant students in the English Language Learners program. After just more than a year of work with Hawkridge, Ahn now communicates in English with ease.

Hawkridge was one of 20 teachers honored at an early morning breakfast at Thomas Jefferson last week celebrating National Teacher Appreciation Week. Students in the ProStart cooking class catered the breakfast of pancakes, fresh fruit, pastries, eggs, bacon and sausage.

Ahn spoke about how his life was impacted by Hawkridge. Last month, Ahn won an essay contest sponsored by the Washington Education Association. The topic was “A Teacher to Remember.”

“Even though we could not understand each other very well because of the language barrier, my heart was moved when I realized she was cautiously listening to me so she could respond to my situation,” Ahn wrote in his essay. “For me, who moved alone to an unfamiliar and strange land, Ms. Hawkridge’s classroom became a great refuge for me.”

Ahn said that Hawkridge embraced him as a mother would.

“When I have ELL students, I know how to understand them,” Hawkridge said. “I do not care what nationality they are, what country they are from.”

All of the teachers recognized at the breakfast were nominated by their peers or by students.

Contact Margo Hoffman: or (253) 925-5565.

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