[The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own.]
One never knows what a new school year will bring. This year, it brought two 6th students from Iran who spoke only Farsi. I will call them Kian and Pari. Yet, in a few short days, Kian and Pari re-energized my faith in humanity.
On the first day of school our students arrived, bright and happy, and stood in flowery clusters of conversation groups. They chatted about summer and shared excitement about classes. My favorite part of a new school year is what I call “the squeal”—it’s the sound our students (particularly 6th graders) make when the bell rings to go to the first class. This year, the students did not disappoint–the bell rang, they squealed and scurried to class. I just love it.
Kian and Pari stood clearly apart, looking lost to the point of bewildered. This is how I found them— after the squeal—their crinkled schedules tightly clutched. This is how I discovered they could not speak nor understand an English word beyond “Hi.”
Now, every year, we do have a handful of students for whom English is a second language; they come from South America, Europe, China—virtually every part of the world. In my experience, they also come with a working knowledge of numbers and basic directions. Particularly children, they absorb language like a sponge. This was not the case for Kian and Pari.
On August 8th, 2018 I published a blog The School Administrator’s Role in Addressing Stereotyping and Bullying of American-Iranian Children about the alarming statistic of the bullying of students who were (or just perceived to be) of Middle Eastern descent—the issue becoming exponentially worse with students who identified as Muslim. In the back of mind, beyond the immediate ‘housekeeping issues’ at hand, I worried about this too.
Immediately, I alerted their teachers and notified our campus supervisors. We scrambled to find anyone on campus who spoke Farsi. How were Kian and Pari going to find the bathrooms? The health office? Their next class? How were they going to keep up with the teacher? And what about bullying. Could they even report it?
I pulled their files for any shred of background information and learned their father had been embedded with the U.S. Troops in Afghanistan and was granted a Visa for his family. They had recently arrived in the United States after spending some time in Afghanistan. For Kian and Pari, I can only imagine arriving at a middle school of 1,500 upper-middle class students must feel like landing on the moon.
In the coming days, we found a few students who spoke some Farsi and we arranged time for a campus tour, locker opening lessons and where to go for break and lunch.
But, what warms my heart and renewed my faith in all our of students, is the way the rest of the students have so willingly taken them under wing. Just the other day, I saw Kian in the middle of a small pack of 6th grade boys heading toward our field. I rushed over there. “What’s happening? Where are you taking him?”
One blue eyed boy, Jonah, looked at me. “We asked Kian if he wanted to play soccer.”
Another boy, Russel, piped up, “He’s from Iran you know,” he pointed at Kian with a thumb. “They’re some of the best players in the world and he’s gonna be on my team.” He grinned at Kian and pointed at himself. “Football. My team.” Kian nodded and gave an example soccer kick.
From a distance, I kept my eye on the boys and Kian looked so happy. Strands of his fine black hair stuck to face with sweat and I noticed he’d bite at his lower lip when he ran. But it didn’t end on the field. These boys guided Kian to eat lunch with them, and one of the boys helped Kian not only to open his locker, but choose the book for his next class. The boy held Kian’s schedule, handed him a book, closed his locker and pointed to the class. Kian smiled and nodded.
And what about Pari? Were the girls being as kind? I asked around to find out how she was getting along and, again I my heart literally warmed in my chest. A teacher had guided her to our lunch time “games group” where a table of two boys and two girls asked her to join. During a game of UNO, Pari learned her colors and her numbers. I am told the table let out a cheer, not when someone “won” or made a great “play”, but when Pari knew the right color or number. Can you imagine?
I know there are many more important, world-altering topics occupying the news. I know society struggles with monumental issues impacting millions of people. I also know I shared a blog about the ‘bullying’ that does happen on school campus–and I am proud to share I what have seen first hand.
I witnessed hope. Authentic kindness from a place where humanity lives–in the hearts of children.
As adults, we can learn a lot.