'Work, work and work' guides Waterford's High's cheerful Mubarkan Sajid

Waterford — With a desk near the classroom door in her former school in Pakistan, it was Mubarkan Sajid's job to alert students whenever the principal approached.

"I had never met him. We were so afraid. If we were making noise, all I had to do was say he was coming and they all just shut up," said Sajid, an 18-year-old Waterford High School senior who's still surprised at the relative ease and consistent friendliness of American education compared to Pakistan, where schools often feature signs bearing the words of the nation's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who said, "Work, work and only work."

Sajid was in a pre-medical school track in Pakistan, with studies largely focused on biology, chemistry and anatomy before immigrating to the U.S. with her parents and three younger siblings about two years ago. Because of the "totally different education system here," she had to retake 11th grade, starting Waterford High as a junior while speaking rudimentary English that "was quite a bit horrible."

"After a weekend, I stutter a lot in English because I only speak Urdu at home," she said smiling.

English teacher Kathy Morgan, who met Sajid on her second day at Waterford High, said, "From the start, she's been such a light. So positive and eager to learn."

While her regular classes were much easier than those in Pakistan — where she often stayed for after-school lessons until 7 p.m., with homework remaining before bed — Sajid faced challenging speech and English courses in Waterford head on with a positive attitude and fierce work ethic ingrained by her parents and helpful teachers. Now she will graduate on Friday, June 14, with the Seal of Biliteracy.

Her English skills improved so quickly, said Principal Andre Hauser, that Sajid earned a spot serving as a reader of morning announcements this school year.

"It was a challenge at first but I think it was a really good experience. I'm more confident now," Sajid said, adding that in-class speeches had the same effect.

Lauren Benoit, Sajid's teacher in an English language learners course, said Sajid was "pushing herself all the time," whether in class or even at a recent Lake Compounce field trip where she hopped onto rides that may have seemed too daring to her a couple years ago.

"Public speaking pushes most people out of their comfort zone, but for every speech, she dresses up and puts herself out there," Benoit said. "She has her own unique style and I've seen tremendous growth this year."

Literacy coach Toni Tessier described Sajid as "hardworking, driven, mature and focused."

"She also has a feisty competitive side," Tessier said. "She quickly adapted to American high school academically and socially."

Sajid, who ran track her junior year, said she enjoys nature and gardens at home, so she performed community service as part of Morgan's Landscaping and Gardening Club, which maintains gardens and greenery surrounding the school.

"She put in a ton of hours out there in the summer heat," Morgan said, noting Sajid was always upbeat and grateful for the openness and support from teachers and staff.

Sajid, who's brother, Sarshar, is a junior at Waterford, enjoys spending free time with her friends and elementary and preschool-aged brother and sister, Esaar and Aldiyana.

She hopes to be a doctor by the time Esaar graduates high school. In two years, she plans to head to University of Connecticut's Department of Allied Health Sciences and then UConn School of Medicine.

Later this month, she has orientation at UConn Avery Point, where she "already bought the books and started studying."

"I love studying beforehand," she said. "So when the time comes, I'm ready."

b.kail@theday.com

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