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Special Schools Sustain Culture - 2002-04-19

English Feature #7-34577 Broadcast March 5, 2001

Many ethnic groups living in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area conduct schools, usually on Saturday or Sunday, to teach their American-born children the language, culture, and customs of their parents' native countries. There are Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Greek, Tibetan, Latvian and Ukrainian schools, to name just a few. Today on New American Voices, parents at the India International School in Northern Virginia talk about the school's role in connecting their children with their heritage.

Radikha Yadav, a slender, energetic woman in a brick-red sari, was one of the founders of the India International School near Washington, D.C., fifteen years ago. At that time the school had four students - two of them her children - and one teacher. Today the school has a student body of over 250, and 15 teachers, most of them recognized experts in their field. The school rents ten classrooms each Sunday in the local Jewish Community Center. Mrs. Yadav says the activities of the Indian and Jewish groups take place side-by-side.

"That's the beauty of it. See, this is the unity with the diversity. And the Jewish people have recognized this, just as the Indians have, and we've been working together for the last nine or ten years, and the people in the Jewish Community Center have been very, very helpful to us."

Radihka Yadav says that students come from all over the state of Virginia. Some parents drive several hours each way so that their children can take instruction in Hindi, or traditional Indian music, or dance.

"All our parents are very committed, very motivated. You know, as they've been living here and experiencing the beauty of both the cultures, because they come with the heritage of Indian culture, they're also making efforts that their children learn about their Indian heritage. They bring the children here, they take part in making sure that they understand what they're learning in the classroom, and they reenforce it at home by way of helping them with their homework, or practice their music. So they're very involved parents."

Padmini Iyer, a computer programmer, was waiting for her son to finish classes one recent Sunday. Mrs. Iyer says the family speaks English at home because she wants her children to fit in with their American surroundings. But she brings eleven-year-old Mouhed to the India School to study the Indian drum, the tabla, so that he will know something about his cultural heritage.

"I'd like him to have some connection with his roots, and if he wanted to explore it when he grew up, that would be good. So that's why I'm just introducing him to Indian culture now. We're just trying to blend their Indian heritage with mainstream American life."

Poornima Vijayanagar, a computer software engineer, says she brings her 12-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter to India School every Sunday because it enriches them. They attend five different classes throughout the day. Mrs. Vijaynagar believes that the diversity of people in the school, who stem from all regions of India, helps her answer questions that her children have.

"Things like why should certain things be done. For example, the way we pray. Because India is a meltingpot of so many different religions, and the children want to know why one prays differently from the other. And what I've got really for my children is that they've learned to respect all religions, believing that it's all different paths to one God."

Nidhi Malek, a medical doctor, not only brings her two young sons to the India school, but also attends classes herself, studying the classical Indian stringed instrument, the sitar. Dr. Malek has another perspective on the benefits of the school for her boys.

"Apart from learning how to speak and write Hindi, I think there's a very big social benefit, as well. They are learning to identify with a lot of other children who have similar backgrounds, and they are learning to emphasize their strengths."

Nidhi Malek believes that, with the help of the India school, it is possible for her children to grow up both Indian and American.

"My hope is that my children adopt the best of both cultures, and that is what I am trying to achieve by having them come here. I think the best about American culture is that they learn to be themselves, and they learn leadership skills. And as far as the best of Indian culture, I think family values are very strong in Indian culture. So I hope that they learn to soar while still maintaining their roots."

Next week on this program - the voices of parents, teachers and students at one of the Washington area's 60 or so Korean schools.