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Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Starting young

Having classmates from around the world is an exciting advantage for some Lawrence public school students.

November 3, 2004

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"Diversity" is sort of an overused term in today's society. Just being able to point to a group and show it includes a wide range of men and women of different races, religions, age or ethnicity doesn't really mean a lot. It's the interaction that's important.

Hillcrest School long has been a highly "diverse" school because its attendance area includes Kansas University's Stouffer Place apartments for married students. Many international students make Stouffer Place their campus home and send their children to Hillcrest. The number of students for whom English is their second language presents some challenges for the school, but over the years the mix of cultures has been an important source of enrichment for students there.

Hillcrest, however, has become overcrowded, and the school district now plans to extend services for non-English speaking students to Cordley School. Additional teacher training will be necessary, but it's likely that the exposure to children from other cultures also will prove to be a positive experience for Cordley students.

What occurs naturally among children at these elementary schools is a small step toward the kind of international understanding the world needs more of. American students at Hillcrest make friends with students from Asia, the Middle East and other countries around the world. They gain an understanding of their cultures and religious beliefs. And, most of all, they and their parents make friends with other children and parents with whom they find they have much in common.

Similar opportunities are available to KU students, especially if they choose to seek out interaction with people not like themselves. Many graduates of Kansas high schools come to KU having had little contact with people of different racial or cultural backgrounds. Exposure to the diverse group that is the KU student body is an important part of broadening their horizons.

A new KU program that was the vision of KU professor Felix Moos and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts takes the concept of diversity even a step further. The Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars program has started recruiting students at universities across the country who are willing to immerse themselves in the language and culture of targeted areas of the world such as Afghanistan, the Middle East, Korea and China. They receive scholarships in exchange for their commitment to put their knowledge to work for the CIA after graduation.

The need for Americans to understand the lives and cultures of people all around the world has never been greater. Who knows? Some of the future participants in the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars may be starting their multicultural education in the Lawrence public schools right now.

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