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Kids Learning To Help - 2002-12-04

English Feature #7-36982 Broadcast December 2, 2002

As the Washington area continues to attract vast numbers of immigrants, local schools adjust to teaching American traditions and culture to children of many different ethnic backgrounds. We visited an elementary school in Arlington, Virginia, and found that while being introduced to the customs of the new country, the children are encouraged to remember and respect those of their native lands.

Song:“If you’re thankful”

The first-graders at Glebe Elementary School are preparing a Thanksgiving performance for their parents, rehearsing their finale, “If you’re thankful and you know it, clap your hands.” The children at this school on the outskirts of Washington, which goes from kindergarten to 5th grade, come from over 40 countries and speak 20 different languages at home. Many are from Latin America, but there are also kids born in Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, Pakistan, Japan, China, Russia, Nigeria, and the Middle East. The principal of Glebe Elementary, Sylvia Taub, says the teachers are very attuned to the ethnic diversity of their students.

“Well, obviously the biggest challenge is that learning styles differ, culturally, you know, from culture to culture, and it’s very important for teachers to understand the different cultures.”

Each year the school selects a theme around which it organizes many of its activities. This year the theme is “HOME”. Accordingly, the outlines of a sizeable three-dimensional house have been constructed in the middle of the school’s large, airy library. The walls of this house are covered with “postcards” the students have written and illustrated – “postcards” from home, that is from their native countries. The school librarian, Terri Bonnett – whose idea the postcards were – says she loves working with such a diverse student body.

“In a school like this it’s really wonderful, because you see so many varieties of children. They’re all really …We also have a life skills class, where you have kids who are in wheelchairs and who can’t hold their heads up. And so, I like working in this environment, because there’s so much acceptance of differences, there really is.”

In fact, the children have a little pledge of respect for these differences that they say every morning, right after the pledge of allegiance to the American flag.

Kids recite:“I pledge allegiance to the children of the world and to the earth on which we stand, one people whose differences we respect, one goal, to live and love in peace.”

Combining the general theme of “Home” and the American tradition of holiday giving to the poor, the children of Glebe Elementary have initiated a drive to collect food for the homeless. The guiding spirits of this drive are fourth-graders, among them Sabrina Patwary, who comes from Bangladesh.

“We are collecting food for the Arlington homeless and needy families for the holiday food drive. And we have collected 250 pounds of food. We are going through December 16, and we made a goal for 1000 pounds of food.”

Another fourth-grader involved in the food drive is nine-year-old Iqrah Asis from Pakistan.

“We will take the food to Arlington Food Assistance Center where they give food to six hundred needy families every week.”

Alan Rowlett, an African-American born in Arlington, says that students, teachers, their families and local merchants all contributed food.

“It’s canned food, juice boxes, cereal boxes, and stuff, and sugars and crackers, and canned goods, and macaroni and cheese…”

Terri Bonnett, the librarian, who is supervising the food drive, believes that it teaches the kids an important lesson.

“I work with a group of children in the “yes” club, which is a club for kids that need to develop leadership skills, maybe need to develop social skills, etcetera. Part of what develops leadership skills in kids is doing projects for others. We talked about different things that kids could do to help other people, and they all agreed with me that the homeless was a good project.”

Meanwhile, the students at Glebe Elementary were enjoying the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving. The kindergartners, of various colors and faiths and backgrounds, all wore paper headdresses transforming them into pilgrims or Indians. Their teachers and parents had prepared a Thanksgiving feast for them, including all the traditional dishes like turkey, corn and pumpkin pie -- but with the addition of ethnic specialties like Chinese wonton and Salvadoran papusas.

Like Glebe Elementary School itself, the kindergartner’s Thanksgiving feast reflected the mix of ethnic cultures and American traditions.

Kids singing “Thanks a Lot”

Thanks a lot: Thanks for the whispering wind.

Thanks a lot: Thanks for the birds in the spring.

Thanks a lot: Thanks for the moonlit night.

Thanks a lot: Thanks for the stars so bright.

Thanks a lot: Thanks for the wonder in me.

Thanks a lot: Thanks for the way that I feel.

Thanks a lot: Thanks for the animals and the land.

Thanks a lot: Thanks for the people and the wind.

Thanks a lot: Thanks for all I've got.

Photos by R. Eitches