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School hosts population with close family ties to 38 countries

Dec. 5, 2007

You could say it's a microcosm of the world.

In an effort to more concretely recognize the rich cultural diversity at Maple Dale School, staff and Student Council members have formed a mock United Nations chapter. Thirty percent, or 101 of the school's 337 students, are either directly from a foreign country or have parents who are immigrants.

The students gathered for an assembly Nov. 29 to officially form the mock UN chapter, Nations United in Learning. The students, representing their country, one by one said they agreed to join the union. It was an exercise that showed the student body the diversity within its ranks.

The students formed a mock UN chapter, Nations United in Learning. The chapter's formation included a proclamation that touched on the virtues of intercultural exchange and the assurance of equal education for all students, regardless of their background.

The resolution was modeled after the actual formation of the UN, which took place in 1945 in New York City as a means of promoting peace, dignity and justice in the aftermath of World War II. Initially, 51 nations joined the UN. Today, 192 countries are part of it.

Unique opportunities

For years, Maple Dale, which serves grades two through eight, has had students from all over the globe. But staff members said this year appears to be record-setting. Students hail from Colombia, England, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa and other countries.

"I didn't know there were this many countries represented in this school," said sixth-grader Allen Kang, a native of South Korea. "It's really cool."

Karen Arbit, who works with English as a Second Language students and teaches Spanish, said the district's location may have a role in creating the cultural mix.

Nearby apartments, such as the Porticos and Foxcroft complexes in Fox Point, can house transient out-of-towners who might be in the country for a short time for work. That scenario, in part, can account for some of the diversity at Maple Dale, Arbit said.

The melding of students from many religious and ethnic backgrounds is evident at the school, Arbit said. It is not unusual, she said, to see a student of Canadian heritage eat lunch and play with a classmate of Nigerian descent.

"It's total tolerance, no matter what your background is," she said. "It's an ideal world."

In touch with their roots

Jeff Bohacek, Maple Dale's guidance counselor, said the UN idea came to fruition after brainstorming with fellow faculty members. Then the Maple Dale Student Council pursued the idea. The council's efforts have included fundraising so flags can be displayed in the school entryway representing the students in attendance each year.

Eighth-grader Sahar Edalatpour, this year's Student Council president, said she has enjoyed supporting the UN project, as it is a cause that hits close to home.

Sahar, a native of Iran, said she has been able to keep in touch with her roots while simultaneously acclimating to the U.S.

"There are five families here in the North Shore (that are from Iran)," Sahar said. "On the weekends we usually hang out with each other."

The sense of duality for some students, such as seventh-grader Qurratulain Ghaffar, means transitioning back and forth from the U.S. to her native country of Pakistan throughout the year during school breaks.

"It's always kind of interesting (going to Pakistan)," Qurratulain said. "The taxis are different, and people will sell stuff right on the street."

A sense of duality

Arbit helps the students transition to the U.S. by teaching American customs and language. She said she is inspired by such students as third-grader Taka Ishikuri, a native of Japan who is not only mastering English himself, but is helping his mother learn it at home.

"These are students who are between worlds, and that's what makes this project so interesting," Arbit said. "I feel enlightened and privileged to work with these students. I've learned a lot."

The awareness of students' cultural and religious beliefs extends to classroom policies, Arbit said. Muslim students, for instance, may be exempt from homework during portions of the religious observance known as Ramadan, a time devoted to inner reflection, the exercise of self-control and devotion to their god, Allah.

Looking ahead, Arbit said a goal is to link the rich array of cultures to the fine arts programs at Maple Dale.

"That would be a wonderful way to celebrate diversity," she said. "It's another way for students to be proud of their ancestry."

Dave Fidlin can be reached at dfidlin@cninow.com or (262) 446-6603.

BY THE NUMBERS

38

countries represented

in Maple Dale's United Nations project

101

Maple Dale students

with close ties to a foreign country

337

students attending

Maple Dale School this year

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