An election page, Layla will be among a team of volunteers greeting voters (courtesy photo)

As a nine year old, Layla would tag along with her mother to the polls on Election Day in Morocco. She would watch her mom put an “x” in a box and knew it was important, long before she understood why. It was only ever her mother who stepped into the election booth. Her grandmother always remained hesitant about the process even after she got the right to vote as an adult.

Layla, however, is a strong believer in the importance of voting. When the polls open this Tuesday, she will be helping Alexandria voters make their voices heard as part of a team of volunteers answering questions and guiding voters, and interpreting Arabic and French as an election page. 

"I was overwhelmed when I first arrived in the U.S. Voting can also be a confusing thing to do. I want to help people who are probably going to feel as confused as I was when I first arrived here. Volunteering is my way of helping others who may feel like I did then,” Layla says.

When Layla landed in the U.S. with her mom two years ago, she was drawn to the comfort of the couch after confusing and exhausting days as one of five Moroccan students in the International Academy at T.C. Williams High School. She immersed herself in American movies and television shows, watching The Help — a movie about segregation in the Deep South — as a way of not only learning English but also of trying to understand the struggles others faced because they were different. Through it she learned how important it is to appreciate the differences in people.

Playing in her earbuds would be Celine Dion’s, “I’m Alive,” and Sia’s, “Unstoppable.” She would sing along, enunciating each syllable until the words made sense.

The more she listened the more she realized it was making a difference —  and the faster still she learned English. The more she learned, the more independent and confident she was, too. It was through movies like “Hidden Figures” that she learned to create a world where she has found her voice and learned to stand up for what she believes.

Now Layla, one of 590 high school students in the International Academy, is looking forward to graduating from T.C. Williams next June. The International Academy enables students who are new to the U.S. to tackle both English and course content at the same time. It takes an average of five to seven years to learn to speak English like a native. 

"If you know English, your future is going to be better. Every time you meet somebody or see somebody who speaks English, when they start talking, you remember the words. Every encounter is an opportunity to learn. I want to learn how things work so that when I get the right to vote, I know how to choose the right person,” she says.

As an election page, Layla will be among a team of volunteers greeting voters as they enter the polls, answering voter questions about the process and supporting voters with special needs.

Layla doesn’t know yet where she will be assigned on Election Day. If you see her at your polling place, be sure to say hello and thank her for her service.