Georgia community school a microcosm of the world
December 24, 2007
A Dominican nun, a freelance writer and a principal of a prestigious school founded the International Community School in DeKalb County, Georgia to address the cultural and language barrier that many children of the refugee immigrants faced after arriving there in the late 1990’s.
In the last ten years, thousands of refugee children have come to DeKalb County, bringing not only gifts and talents but also the deep physical and spiritual wounds of war. Today the county is home to the highest percentage of refugees in the southeastern United States. (ICS)
Student population here represents over 40 nation and over 50 languages are spoken in the hallways. But children of refugees only compose half of all pupils. The other half is diverse in a socio-economic manner.
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. (NYT)
Understandably, the community school faces expected challenges specific to each refugee student’s experience from the emigrated country.
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.
A Sudanese girl was so traumatized from war and relocation that she insisted on sitting on the floor beneath her desk each day.
Fortunately, the school staff is as diversely represented as the student body. Which helps faculty understand or, in some cases, relate to their students.
Naza Orlovic, a teacher’s assistant from Bosnia, said her experience as a refugee allowed her to recognize and to soothe hurt feelings that frequently arose out of cultural misunderstandings.
“I constantly remind them how lucky we are,” said Hodan Osman, 27, a tutor separated from her parents at age 10 during the civil war in Somalia.
“We could have been killed,” she said, “and not only are we here, but we’re in a place where we’re celebrated. I tell them they can take everything away from you, but your knowledge is in your head, and it makes you brave.”
Presently, there are strong plans to add a middle school to the institution. And a founder desires to open a health clinic for the refugees there.
Maybe not apparent at first glance, but the location of the school is a bit ironic. The region used to be a Ku Klux Klan haven.