By Yvette tenBerge
The pink chapel that houses King Chávez Academy of Excellence Charter School, located at 735 César Chávez Parkway, was filled with the voices of angels on Friday, May 24, thanks to the “World Is One,” a program that matched adults from a local, international language academy with elementary and middle school-aged students from San Diego.
Borders were transcended as students from San Diego’s Language Instruction Centrum and kindergarteners from King Chávez clasped hands and belted out lyrics to the Beatles song “Imagine” to cap a morning filled with lessons in geography, cuisine, language and fashion from around the world.
While the majority of San Diego’s public school children were opening textbooks and filling out worksheets, King Chávez students were learning about cultural aspects of countries such as Japan, Korea, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Russia, and Colombia from ambassadors from these countries, themselves.
Todd McKeown has been teaching at King Chávez Academy since it opened its doors almost two years ago. His previous teaching experience at the Language Instruction Centrum and his desire to ensure that all students know the importance of connecting with others around the globe is what motivated him to create his “World Is One” event.
“The hub of the wheel is recognizing that people from every country throughout the world are our brothers and sisters,” says Mr. McKeown, who spent time at the language school presenting his idea and assigning homework to the eager adults. “I asked the international students to prepare a lecture or lesson about their culture, and our students were asked to do the same.”
Anna Maria Pisano, 24, is an Italian who was born in Geneva, Switzerland. She clasps a bundle of colorful, paper flowers that were given to her by a King Chávez student and smiles as she confesses that her lesson was on Tiramisu, her favorite Italian desert.
“They really liked my Tiramisu, but I was too nervous to explain much about it. I learned a lot about the foods that they eat here, too. Before coming here, I only knew about enchiladas, but today, I had Pozole,” says Ms. Pisano, referring to the pork and hominy-based stew that is a staple of most Mexican-American households. “The chance I had to come here today was very interesting because we don’t do these kinds of things in Switzerland.”
Alex Silva, 13, and his sister Sonia, 11, sit next to their contribution to the “World Is One”: a heaping aluminum pan of chorizo, a spicy beef or pork sausage, that they made with the help of their mother. Miss Silva says that she and her brother picked the dish because they “needed something quick,” but her brother elaborates.
“Chorizo is always a good breakfast, plus it’s something that not even the Spanish [Language Instruction Centrum student] had seen before,” says Mr. Silva, who points out that his classmates also brought in plates of arroz, tortillas and rolled tacos. “Today, I learned how to write my name in Japanese, to say ‘What’s cracking’ in Lingala and French, and I learned something about African dress.”
Koury Rivera, 13, scoops spoonfuls of the strawberry flan that he had brought to share with the language students into his mouth before concentrating on the origami lesson being given by a language student from Japan. He admits to thinking that the “bread with tomato” dish from Spain called pa amb tomaquet was “weird” but bubbles over with excitement when describing the best part of the “World Is One” program.
“We met a lot of people from different countries,” says Mr. Rivera. “This was a really great treat.”
From the positive reactions from both the Language Instruction Centrum students and the King Chávez students, it appears that Friday’s program was a success. Brit Alford has been the Director of the Centrum since it’s inception 10 years ago. The San Diego-based school has roughly five or six classes running simultaneously at any given time and attracts people from countries in South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. She confirms that she was enthusiastic when approached by Mr. McKeown with the idea for “World Is One” a few weeks ago.
“I know that Todd has a nice point of view as to cultural issues, and I knew that the “World Is One” would be good exposure for all students. When people from around the world are learning from each other, they pick up more than they would just reading from a book,” says Ms. Alfrod, who confirms that her school was abuzz after Mr. McKeown presented his proposal. “We are fortunate that understanding between cultures is being cemented in our young people.”
Eliana Ulloa, 24, is a Colombian who has been a student at the Language Instruction Centrum for the past year and a half. She confesses that her plans to continue her education in hotel administration changed after spending the day with King Chavez students.
“To receive the energy that these kids gave us today was amazing. Our students have a terrible time in Colombia, and to see that these kids don’t want war, only peace, made me see that I want to be a teacher,” says Ms. Ulloa, who receives a nod of agreement from a Russian student who came to King Chavez, as well. “I can do something great for them, too.”