MS. REBECCA SHEIR
In the form of field trips, D.C. public schools and the Washington Performing Arts Society are pairing 5th and 6th graders from across the district with embassies.
MR. ROB SACHS
And as WAMU education reporter, Kavitha Cardoza, tells us, each year thousands of students visit the embassies to attend film screenings, try out international cuisines and meet ambassadors and dignitaries.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
In a classroom at Eaton Elementary School in Northeast D.C., the embassy of Saudi Arabia is hosting a fashion show.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1
At the bottom, you see stripes and these stripes tell you what tribe she's from.
Staffer Khalid al-Ghanami is explaining the different types of robes and head scarves as the students model.
MR. KHALID AL-GHANAMI
They put patterns on them, anything that they see in the desert, colors and flowers.
The walls of the classroom are lined with posters that list English words and their Arabic equivalents, such as book and kitab, house of prayers and masjid. This 5th grade classroom is part of the Embassy Adoption Program and students will learn all about Saudi culture for a year. As they munch on sweet dates, they quiz al-Ghanami.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2
Who was the first Muslim?
That would be the prophet Mohammed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
The questions continue. Is the gold on the clothes real? Yes. What do newborns in Saudi wear? Baby Gap. Al-Ghanami says he wants students to know about the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which he says is not just about oil.
We have the cultural ties, the educational ties, the health care ties, the social ties, all that and I haven't touched on all the political alliances between our two countries.
Kevin McNamee coordinates the Embassy Adoption Program for D.C. public schools. Forty-five embassies participate. McNamee says the interaction might include children learning to make French food or Mexican piñatas, but they might also learn about exchange rates using Canadian currency in math or discuss how climate change is affecting Finland in science.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2
It's not just another add-on and another thing to take away from the school day. It actually becomes a creative dynamic way in which the teachers can deliver that curriculum.
All kinds of relationships develop from the program. Njambi Wynn, with the Washington Performing Arts Society, helps coordinate and raise money for the program. She says students from one D.C. class will video-conference with students in Luxemburg. Students from another will soon learn judo after the Japanese embassy donated uniforms and mats. And some students may get to travel abroad, like one class that had the red carpet rolled out for them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 3
They were movie stars on television, in the newspapers. So this is something that changed their lives. They will never forget Poland.
Maribel Jimeno, a teacher from Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Northwest D.C., teaches a class that paired with Mexico this year. She says the program re-enforces the bilingual aspect of the school, but also shows students it's about more than just language.
MS. MARIBEL JIMENO
Bilingual is not just learning to speak the language. It's understanding the culture and understanding traditions and understanding the way these people think.
These interactions sometimes gloss over serious differences, such as disputed political boundaries or women's rights in other countries. McNamee says D.C. PS is working on a revised curriculum with state department officials so children will also learn about the U.S. government's relationship with each country. And Wynn says even when children learn about differences, they also learn they have to be respectful towards different cultures, for example, with food.
MS. NJAMBI WYNN
We always say you just take a little bit. You don't go, oh, I don't like that. You try it. You say thank you very much and you're appreciative of what anyone does for you.
Even as these children learn about differences, they also learn about what connects us all. Ten-year-olds at Eaton Elementary School in Northwest D.C. who are studying about South Africa listen to a first-hand account of life there from Ambassador Abraham Rasul. He describes his experiences organizing marches, going to jail and working with former South African President Nelson Mandela. It is history come alive.
UNIDENFIED MALE 3
How did it feel during apartheid?
AMBASSADOR ABRAHAM RASUL
I remember when I went to high school. Within the first three months, I was involved in my first march against apartheid because the school was so bad. It was raining outside. It was cold outside, but we had no shelter, no heating. Every five children shared one textbook.
At the end of the year, children present what they've learned at their adopted country's embassy. Wynn says once some students rapped about King Henry and his wives at the British embassy, much to the amusement of the ambassador. Another class performed a traditional Indonesian dance, while another began by singing the national anthem of Cyprus.
And they did it in Greek. The ambassador, his wife, his staff, all had tears in their eyes. They were so pleased. This year, they had to (word?) . The teacher said, oh, we'll do it in Japanese as well.
For these children in local schools, it's an opportunity for global experiences early on. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
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