Teens stage lessons in diversity

Community: High school students are visiting libraries to teach children that they can love people of all cultures.

Howard Live

January 22, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

The nonprofit group Community Building in Howard County believes its message of appreciating diversity and reducing conflict is best delivered to young people by young people.

The organization is sending nine student volunteers from Wilde Lake High School to Howard County libraries to share a message of harmony and hope through poems and songs. The students also make their point by standing side by side as representatives of a variety of cultures.

"You can show [children] you can love everyone," said Alex Rodriguez, a Wilde Lake 10th- grader whose parents are from Puerto Rico and El Salvador. He said this program "is going to help children understand about peace."

Alex and other presenters at the Glenwood library last week offered greetings in several languages and identified the communities to which they belong: Arab, Korean, Hispanic, Muslim, Anglo and the people of Ghana, Haiti and Honduras.

Group members offered their presentation, "One World, One Heart and One Community," at the east Columbia library last night. They plan to be at the Savage branch library Wednesday, and the Elkridge and Miller branches and the central library next month.

"We find that young children really relate to other young people more so than to grown-ups," said Natalie Woodson, Community Building's program chairwoman. "We wanted the children to relate to the teen-agers. They serve as role models and guides for the younger children."

The messages are simple to suit children in third grade and younger.

"Do we want hate?" the performers asked. "No. No. No. Do we want greed? No. No. No. Do we want violence? No. No. No."

Organizers drew material from a book called One World, One Heart by Susan Polis Schutz with illustrations by her husband, Stephen Schutz. The couple, of Boulder, Colo., have a publishing company and distribute free copies of One World.

"We had to modify the poems so they would be appropriate for young children," Woodson said. The students also set some poems to melodies so audience members can sing along.

One refrain goes: "One sun, one moon, for all the world to see. One world, one heart and one community."

"We are showing these little kids we can live together in one community," said Shawn Frederick, a senior at Wilde Lake High School.

Frederick, who is white, said that when he moved to Wilde Lake from Liberty High School in Carroll County as a freshman, he found the new school much more diverse. He has gotten to know students from many backgrounds as student government president, captain of the varsity football team and a member of the National Honor Society.

"It is very important in these times" to help Americans understand other cultures, said Wael Ali, a sophomore at Wilde Lake.

Wael and his twin brother, Wasel, have spoken to school and community groups about Islam and Arab cultures before. The boys' father is Sudanese, and their mother is Egyptian. Both were born in Sudan and came to the United States when they were 5 years old.

Students were identified to take part by Wilde Lake High School staff, including the English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher, principal and assistant principal.

"It's an opportunity for a diverse group of students to come together to work cooperatively on a project," said Assistant Principal Marcy Leonard.

It also allows students who have not had experience speaking in public to build their confidence, she said.

Children were in short supply at the Glenwood library as the temperature dropped and the wind gusted Jan. 15, but the teen-agers received a warm response as they practiced their show for library staff and Community Building members.

"This is very, very impressive," Evelyn Gerkin Greenberg, a librarian at the Glenwood branch, said after seeing the presentation. "It is very heartwarming, especially from a parent's perspective."

"One World, One Heart and One Community" will be presented at the Savage branch Wednesday, the Elkridge branch Feb. 5, the Miller branch in Ellicott City on Feb. 10 and the central library in Columbia on Feb. 19. The programs begin at 7 p.m. and are free. Information: 410-730-6984.

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