Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Georgia School as a Laboratory for Getting Along

Whether one celebrates Christmas or not, this beautiful story captures the spirit of the season -- and what makes this great country such a beacon of hope.  By the way, one shouldn't have to read more than halfway through the article to realize that this is a charter school!

And some new arrivals to the school had to overcome intense trauma before they could begin learning.

Teachers noticed that two sisters from Afghanistan seemed terrified as they arrived each day. As refugees in Pakistan, the children had worked making carpets. Exhausted, they regularly dozed at school, which drew beatings. The sisters had assumed such beatings were standard at every school.

Despite these challenges, the school grew. A new grade was added each year. A second campus was opened in space rented from another church a few miles away. Volunteers poured in, mostly retired teachers and students from nearby Emory University and Agnes Scott College.

All the while, administrators and teachers said, the school took its energy from the optimism many of its students had toward their new lives in the United States. Sometimes that optimism was hard to miss. One second grader from Congo is named Bill Clinton.

A Draw for Americans

The diversity at the community school extends to American families. Twenty percent of the students are African-American, and roughly 10 percent are white. About two-thirds of the students come from families that qualify for reduced-price or free lunches, while some of the other students are the children of doctors, lawyers and bankers.

Parents from low-income families tend to choose the school over other nearby public schools because it is safe and has small classes. More affluent parents seek it for the potential benefits of exposure to so many cultures. Most of the middle- and upper-middle-class parents are social progressives from Decatur, a liberal enclave. But not all.

This is good to see too:
Academically, the school seems to be on track. It has met the annual requirement under the No Child Left Behind education law each of the past four years. And this year the school was one of two for disadvantaged children that were commended by the Georgia Board of Education. It was cited for closing the performance gap between low- and high-scoring students, a feat that the school accomplished without lowering its higher scores.

Georgia School as a Laboratory for Getting Along

Published: December 25, 2007

DECATUR, Ga. — Parents at an elementary school here gathered last Thursday afternoon with a holiday mission: to prepare boxes of food for needy families fleeing some of the world’s horrific civil wars.

The community effort to help refugees resembled countless others at this time of year, with an exception. The recipients were not many thousands of miles away. They were students in the school and their families.

More than half the 380 students at this unusual school outside Atlanta are refugees from some 40 countries, many torn by war. The other students come from low-income families in Decatur, and from middle- and upper-middle-class families in the area who want to expose their children to other cultures. Together they form an eclectic community of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, well-off and poor, of established local families and new arrivals who collectively speak about 50 languages.

“The fact that we don’t have anything in common is what we all have in common,” said Shell Ramirez, an American parent with two children at the school.

The International Community School, which goes from kindergarten through sixth grade, began five years ago to address a pressing local problem: how to educate a flood of young refugees. It has evolved into a laboratory for the art of getting along, a place that embraces the idea that people from different cultures and classes can benefit one other, even as administrators, teachers and parents acknowledge the many practical difficulties.


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