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 (Richard Swerdlow)

She was very young and spoke little English. But her talent was as stunning as it was hidden. Richard Swerdlow has this Perspective.

It was third grade computer time at a school in San Francisco's Mission district. Most of the students had recently arrived from Latin America, and were in a program to learn intensive English. Passing out computers, I watched the kids, many of whom had never used a computer before, struggle with laptops. I rushed from desk to desk, helping each student, but with 30 of them and one of me, I realized this might take a while.

“I need a helper,” I said.

All the kids pointed to one girl. “Isabella!” They shouted.

“OK, Isabella, want to help?” I asked. She nodded gravely and stood up.


She was a serious-looking 8-year-old, with a blue dress and braids. Before I even had a chance to explain her task, she had gotten started. She whizzed from desk to desk, instantly logging on each laptop. I stopped what I was doing to watch in amazement. Her fingers danced over keyboards, cursors were manipulated expertly, applications were rapidly configured and complicated issues that would have taken me hours to work out were almost immediately resolved under her flying fingers.

Isabella was, obviously, one of those one-in-a-million people with an instinctive ability with computers. At age 8, speaking little English, she probably could have managed to write a program to rival a software engineer at Salesforce.

Since I’m assigned to multiple schools, I've never worked with Isabella again. But I've been thinking about her. The news has been filled with stories of immigrant children, separated from parents. And last month, a rule was announced allowing immigrant children to be held in detention indefinitely.

I don't know if Isabella's family are undocumented immigrants. But I do know that meeting Isabella made me realize just how much potential is also being held in detention indefinitely. Our nation is filled with stories of children of immigrants who have made immeasurable contributions  from Sergey Brin, founder of Google to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and McDonald's founder Ray Croc, both children of parents who immigrated from Czechoslovakia, to Steve Jobs, child of an immigrant from Syria  children of immigrants have the drive and grit to change the world.

And maybe one day, Isabella will be added to that list.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.