Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Global Minds Allderdice Student's Effort Bridges the Gulf of Cultural Tolerance

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Global Minds Allderdice Student's Effort Bridges the Gulf of Cultural Tolerance

Article excerpt

One morning last semester at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, freshman Peyton Klein noticed her new classmate Khawla and their homeroom teacher looking defeated as they struggled to communicate.

Khawla and her family had fled Aleppo, Syria, over the summer and settled in Highland Park, and the 16-year-old entered Allderdice in the ninth grade. Peyton said she had seen similarly pained interactions more often as the Pittsburgh Public Schools' immigrant and refugee population grew.

Smiles spread across the girls' faces Tuesday as Peyton told Khawla for the first time how she inspired her.

"You made me want to do this whole thing," Peyton said.

"I like that so much," Khawla said, beaming.

That experience last year culminated in Global Minds, a weekly after-school program at the Squirrel Hill high school that aims to help those new students and their native English-speaking peers better understand each other through discussions and activities centering on human rights, diversity, sustainable development and international relations.

Amid the fallout from President Donald Trump's recent executive order putting a temporary hold on admitting refugees and visa holders from seven Muslim-majority nations, Peyton said she's doubling down on her goal of encouraging cultural tolerance.

"There's all this stuff going on in the world, and I think it's so important that our [English as a Second Language] students feel safe and comfortable and have the academic resources that they need to succeed," she said. "I'm even more motivated to make this possible and to engage people in educated dialogue."

About 25 students representing at least seven countries sat on the floor of a fourth-floor classroom Tuesday watching, over snacks, a video about advocacy, before moving to a hallway for small-group chats. At earlier meetings, they had designed posters highlighting positive things about their native countries and learned words in each other's languages. Peyton asked a reporter not to use the last names of the immigrant and refugee students.

Mjdoleen, a 17-year-old senior from Saudi Arabia who now lives in Squirrel Hill, said Global Minds has helped her adjust to life in Pittsburgh. "I'm expecting to make friends and learn more about other cultures," she said.

"In a lot of places right now, I feel like refuges or immigrants aren't feeling welcome," said Ali Axtman, 16, of Squirrel Hill. "And I want our school to be a place where we can be connected and everyone can feel welcomed."

Under the guidance of Allderdice English as a Second Language teacher Jane Valinsky, Peyton first spoke with two ESL classes for feedback before launching Global Minds. Near the end of the fall semester, she applied for a grant from the Sprout Fund's "100 Days of US," an incentive supporting community-led projects during the first 100 days of the new presidential administration. …

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