She fled her war-torn homeland when she was just 12 years old and didn’t know a word of English. Lanah Almatroud’s mother and father knew she needed to go to school.
So, Maher Almatroud and Mayada Chandin sent Lanah to Scarlett Middle School. It was April 2013 and there were only two months left in the school year, but Lanah – filled with frightening memories of Damascus, Syria – finished the seventh grade in her new school. And her new country.
“I was lost,” Lanah says today, almost five years to the day since she stepped foot in Ann Arbor. “I didn’t know how to communicate with anyone and I didn’t know anything about the customs of my new home.”
But she knew she was safe. Her mother, father, grandmother, Fasiha Alabed, and younger sisters, Yara and Shahd, had escaped the horrid conditions of the only home they ever knew. The fifth-floor loft in the center of downtown Damascus, which they remember vibrating from bombs outside, was but a memory. Her private school, Alawael, whose courtyard was also rocked by nearby bombs, was a thing of the past. And the pharmacy her mother owned – damaged by the effects of war – was now 6,000 miles away. The civil war in their home country sent them searching for safety.
Ann Arbor proved a haven. And Lanah, along with her family, started her new life.
She went to summer school between the seventh and eighth grades, learning English and, almost as importantly, learning her way around Scarlett. The next year, she got all A’s.
“I will say, I think the teachers were easy on me that year because I was the new kid who was just learning English,” she said. “There were so many staff members and teachers who were so nice to me and so helpful.”
But, then came her first year at Skyline High. She no longer was the new kid; she was just another student. But, as time would tell, she was not just another student. Lanah’s lowest grade that year was an A- in U.S. History. Now, four years later, she’s a senior and ready to graduate. Since that one A-, she’s had nothing but A’s. Lanah Almatroud carries a 3.9 grade-point average.
No, not just another student. And she’s none too happy about that A-.
“It kind of makes me mad,” Lanah says. “Social studies has always been my hardest subject. American kids have been studying U.S. history since they were little, and I had absolutely no knowledge of it when I came here. I’m proud of my grades, but I do think about that A- sometimes.”
Lanah will graduate from Skyline, but she also attends Huron for the Health and Sciences Program where she has done career shadowing in optometry, dentistry and cardiology. She takes calculus at Skyline and French III at Huron.
And, don’t think this A student is a stay-at-home bookwork. Lanah’s high school career has been full of extra-curricular activities.
She’s been on the Student Action Senate her junior and senior years, she’s been a member of the Red Cross Club since she was a freshman and is the club’s treasurer as a senior, she’s a two-year member of the National Honor Society, she volunteered for TedX Youth as a sophomore and has been an organizer as a junior and senior, she was in the French Club as a freshman and a sophomore and she’s been in the Community Service Club all four years of high school.
“”It’s important to stay busy,” she says. “Plus, it’s a great way to meet friends.”
Staying busy for Lanah doesn’t mean just in school. She is also an active member of the Ann Arbor volunteering community.
She works as a translator for Jewish Family Services in Ann Arbor, helping new Syrian refugees; she reads to senior citizens in the summer at Emmanuel House; she helps out at the Hands-On Museum; and she and her cousins and sisters tutor up to 40 Syrian refugee children, ages 6-14, at the Al-Taqwa Mosque in Ann Arbor.
“I want my parents to be proud of me, that’s my No. 1 motivation,” Lanah says. “They had good jobs in Syria and they left that behind to give our family a safe life here in America. I’ll never forget that.”
Lanah also doesn’t forget the people that have assisted her and her family along the way. As she tells her story, she tries to remember everyone she can that helped her along the way.
“My sisters have been my best friends; my uncle, Aghiad Chandin, let our whole family live in their house for a year; Christopher Peterson, a teacher who was so helpful who passed away in a canoeing accident in his 40s, these are the kind of people who mean so much to me,” Lanah says. “There’s Candida Justyna, my English as a Second Language teacher and Scarlett’s principal Gerald Vazquez, who helped me so much when I first got here.
“One thing I have learned, you can’t get through life by yourself. You need help through difficult times, and I’ve been so lucky to have so many wonderful people to help me.”
Lanah isn’t sure where she’ll go to college, but she definitely will be going. She’s been accepted at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Eastern Michigan University and she’s waiting to hear from Michigan State University. She’s leaning toward dentistry.
“I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” she said. “I’ve been blessed so far. I can’t wait to see what comes next.”