I believe there is a universal language we can all learn to speak. It doesn’t require learning words or phrases. It is the language of communicating respect, caring and interest in another person through our eyes, smile and body language and by spending time together. I have found that children can quickly understand if we care about them, even if we don’t speak the same language.
At Kansas City International Academy, formerly Della Lamb Charter School, we have a unique blend of American families and families from all over the world. There are more than15 native languages spoken by our students. Some come to America as refugees because of war or famine in their homelands. They may not speak any English when they come to school, but they quickly understand the universal language of love and caring that is fluently communicated by our students, teachers and staff.
Our school is having an amazing year, with attendance typically at 95 percent and very few behavior problems in the classrooms. I asked our assistant superintendent, David Leone, why the school is doing so well. He said the kids know that we love them and care about them, and they want to be in school and they want to learn. They know they need to do well in school to be successful in America. The students even ask for more opportunities to learn, like staying after school for more individualized tutoring.
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I have asked teachers about how their year is going, and they tell me that they love being a part of the school and that their students are learning to read quicker than ever before.
We asked our students to tell us why they like coming to school at KCIA. An eighth-grader said, “Kansas City International Academy is a great school because there are so many different and beautiful nationalities. There are so many different faces, cultures, skin colors and languages. Going to a school like ours can introduce children to opportunities to learn something new about one another. Most times teachers spill out their hearts to us. They also make school fun. For example, Ms. McCracken and I dance and sing in the hallway all the time.”
A sixth-grader told us, “Going to KCIA means that I don’t get judged because of my religion. I can walk around and feel safe. I can be myself and be proud of my religion. People do not go around making fun of others and their beliefs. Coming to KCIA means that I get to meet new people. There are people from different parts of the world. We have students who are Arabic, Muslim, Vietnamese, Chinese, Sudanese, African-American, and Caucasian. We can learn about everybody’s culture.”
Another sixth-grader said, “KCIA is a place where people like you for who you are and what you do. I’ve been going to KCIA since kindergarten and not once have I been bullied. I think that KCIA is the most racially diverse school in the Kansas City area. Here at KCIA we believe that if we are dedicated in what we do, we can make a difference in society. And that’s just what this school has been doing since it started in 1999.”
I believe that if we spend time with people who are different from us and are open to learning about other people’s culture, like these kids do at school, we will find that we have more commonalities than differences. We can all speak the same language of love, caring and respect.
Hal Havens is the board president of Kansas City International Academy and an architect. He lives in Lenexa.