News / USA

Embassies' Diplomatic Efforts Extend into US Schools

Students get an inside look at other countries and cultures

Students from Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C., perform at the Indonesian Embassy.
Students from Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C., perform at the Indonesian Embassy.

Multimedia

Audio

Embassy representatives in Washington, D.C., work regularly with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and U.S. officials at the State Department.

Nearly four dozen of them also extend their diplomatic efforts into city schools. They visit hundreds of 5th and 6th graders in D.C. classrooms, as part of the Embassy Adoption Program.

Getting to know you

In one classroom at Aiton Elementary School, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia is hosting a fashion show. Staffer Tarik Allagany explains the different types of robes and head scarves as students model traditional Saudi dress.

Students from Martin Luther King Elementary School visit the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. with staffers from the Saudi Embassy.
Students from Martin Luther King Elementary School visit the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. with staffers from the Saudi Embassy.

"They put patterns on them," he says. "Anything that they see in the desert - colors, flowers."

The 5th grade class is part of the Embassy Adoption Program, which matches embassies with classrooms in the nation’s capital. Each year, the program gives thousands of youngsters a unique, inside look at another country and its culture.

After their fashion show, the Aiton students munch on sweet dates, and ask Allagany about other aspects of Saudi life.

"Who's the first Muslim in the world?" asks one student.

"That would be Prophet Mohammed," Allagany answers.

Allagany wants students to know about the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia which, he says, is not just about oil.

"We have the cultural ties, the educational ties, the healthcare ties, even the social ties and I haven't even touched on the political alliances between our two countries."

Representatives from the Israeli Embassy in the classroom at Hendley Elementary School.
Representatives from the Israeli Embassy in the classroom at Hendley Elementary School.

Cultural outreach

Riyadh’s embassy is one of 45 that participate in the Embassy Adoption Program.

Kate McNamee, coordinator of the 37-year-old program for D.C. Public Schools, says the interactions have been as varied as the countries themselves.

Students in one class made French food. Staff from the Mexican embassy helped their adopted classroom make piñatas - the brightly colored papier-mâché decorations usually filled with candy treats. One class video-conferenced with students in Luxemburg. Another began judo lessons after the embassy of Japan donated mats and uniforms.

"It's not just another add-on, and another thing to take away from the school day," says McNamee. "It becomes a creative, dynamic way to teach curriculum."

One class learned about exchange rates using Canadian currency in math, and another - in science class - discussed how climate change is affecting Finland.

These interactions sometimes gloss over serious concerns, such as disputed political boundaries or women's rights in other countries. McNamee says school officials are working on a revised curriculum with the State Department so children will also learn about the U.S. government's relationship with each country, and gain a more balanced view of the world.

What connects us

Njambi Wynn ran the Embassy adoption program for two decades, and still helps with its activities. She says in addition to facts about their adopted country, students learn respect for other cultures. That respect sometimes includes sampling unfamiliar foods.

Students in traditional Japanese clothing
Students in traditional Japanese clothing

"We say just take a little bit. You don't go, 'Oooh, I don't like that!' You try it, you say 'Thank you very much' and you're appreciative of anything anyone does for you," says Wynn.

Even as children learn about differences, they also learn about what connects us all.

Ten-year-olds at Eaton Elementary, who were adopted by the Embassy of South Africa, listen to a firsthand account of life there from Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool.

"How did it feel during apartheid?" asks a student.

"I remember when I went to high school, within the first three months, I was involved in my first march against apartheid because the school was so bad," says Rasool. "It was raining and cold outside but we had no ceilings, we had no heating. Every five children shared one textbook."

At the end of the year, children visit their adopted country's embassy to present what they've learned.

Njambi Wynn still remembers the year some students performed a rap song about King Henry and his wives at the British embassy, to the amusement of the ambassador. Another class performed a traditional Indonesian dance, while another began by singing the Cyprus national anthem.

"And they did it in Greek. The ambassador, his wife, his staff, they all had tears in their eyes," says Wynn. "They were so pleased. This year, they have Japan and the teacher says 'We'll do it in Japanese, as well.'"

And why not? In an international city like Washington, one is never too young for global experiences.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs