Cultural Exchange Program Sparks Leadership, New Friendships

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The bell signifying the end of homeroom rang. Instead of rushing off to algebra or chemistry, a handful of 11th-graders at Withrow University High School were putting the final touches on a room that would greet some special visitors in a matter of minutes.

About a mile away, third-grade students from the Academy of World Languages (AWL) were boarding a school bus to take a trip over to Withrow to see their 11th-grade mentors.

The visit was the culminating event in a three-part cultural exchange between Withrow and AWL, which was started as an effort to bridge gaps between international students and American-born students at Withrow and local CPS elementary schools.

Students created kite designs and patterns that symbolized their own journeys and experiences in America.

“This program has been a great way to recognize Withrow’s unique population of international students,” said Adam Cooper, ESL teacher at Withrow. “It provides some of our city’s new young residents with leadership opportunities while educating the rest of our students about the diverse cultures we have in our own building.”

Withrow’s international students compose about 21 percent of the entire student body, with representation from Guatemala, Bolivia, Senegal, Mauritania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Syria, Nepal and India. AWL’s students represent more than 35 different nationalities and languages. Given the geographic proximity between the two schools, a partnership of this nature seemed like a perfect opportunity.

During their last visit together, the Withrow and AWL students created cultural symbols on block prints, which were then stamped on paper to create “international kites.” The kites were hung in the corridor to greet the AWL students as a surprise.

Students were excited to share their latest creations with their classmates and big buddies.

The quality time together creates a space for the students to talk and relate with each other about anything from the American Dream, to their respective immigration experiences and journeys, to what they might like to do for fun.

Also present for the visit were members of Withrow’s Student Council: Shalanna Wiggins, Teaira Martin, Corey Griffis, Dejuan Walker, Chrus Phillips, Antwanasia Fant. They attended to learn more about the program and brainstorm ways to replicating the project among Withrow students.

Withrow plans to grow the program to include another elementary school in spring 2019.

Keep up with the great things happening at Withrow and AWL at each school’s website, https://withrow.cps-k12.org and https://awl.cps-k12.org.

Check out the gallery of photos from the visit between AWL and Withrow.

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