Exploring Education at WIS
Two WIS Grade 4 students—Derin and Ilaria—recently had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta, Georgia to be recognized as two of the winners in an international poetry contest about peace. They joined other winners to participate in the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden.
The International World Peace Rose Gardens Project began in 1988 with the goal of promoting world peace by creating rose gardens in public spaces around the world. There are World Peace Rose Gardens in California, Italy, China, Mexico and Georgia.
As an extension of the organization’s efforts, children are invited to engage in several programs, including an annual Inspirational Messages of Peace Contest. Students around the world are asked to submit short poems celebrating peace; winning messages are memorialized on plaques and placed in the rose garden to be appreciated by visitors for a year.
Washington International School was invited to participate in 2017. Our Grade 4 students submitted entries, along with over 12,000 other children from California, Atlanta, India, China, Mexico and Palestine.
Eight WIS students (Zora, Charlie, Anton, Jennifer, Derin, Georgia, Aaricia and Ilaria) were selected as finalists, and received t-shirts and certificates for their efforts. In early April, the contest organizers chose two WIS winners from among the eight finalists.
Derin was thrilled to be a winner, especially because he considers Martin Luther King, Jr. a tremendous inspiration. “I like what Martin Luther King stood for in terms of peace. I didn’t dream I would win, but I am proud to have written a poem in his honor.”
Likewise, Ilaria was pleasantly surprised to be selected. “I used nature as my inspiration. Humans don’t realize how important nature is and I wanted to remind people that we should consider the beauty in nature an example for what we can achieve.”
In mid-May, Derin, Ilaria and their families went to Atlanta for a jam-packed couple of days. They attended a reception with some of the other student winners from the United States and China, and toured Martin Luther King, Jr.’s house.
The Awards Ceremony took place in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where students recited their poems, and enjoyed inspirational messages from Martin Luther King III and others. The celebration concluded with the official unveiling of the poetry plaques at the MLK Rose Garden.
Recently, many of our Primary School students had the opportunity to meet Maryland-born Hena Khan, a Pakistani-American Muslim author of children’s stories. Growing up, Khan loved to read and would bring home bags of books from her local library. However, she quickly recognized that none of the stories reflected her own life experiences, so she set out to change that. Her most recent novel, Amina’s Voice, is about “a Pakistani-American Muslim girl [who] struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community.” While Khan writes about the universal issues facing most young students, such as self-doubt and changing friendships, she also addresses some unique issues facing young Pakistani-American Muslims in a world where Islamophobia is on the rise. One of her goals in writing these novels is to educate her readers about Islam and what it’s like to be part of the Muslim community in the United States.
Our students were thrilled to meet Ms. Khan and get the chance to chat with her. She shared with them information about her Muslim faith, such as: using prayer carpets, praying five times a day facing toward Mecca, and special traditions during the holy month of Ramadan. She also talked to the students about using her own life and culture as an inspiration for her writing.
Some reactions from the students:
“I thought that it was very interesting to hear what inspired her to write. A lot of authors who come have wonderful presentations, but they never really elaborate on why they decided to write of all the other professions. I think it was a pretty moving origin story, about her writing, and I really like her writing, so it was interesting to see her in person and be able to communicate with her.”
“She’s really proud of her country.”
“She’s creative and interesting.”
“Her stories are relatable. She bases them on her life.”
“She helped us find at least one thing we could relate to in her book, Amina’s Voice — normal things that could happen to a kid, like jealousy.”
“She tried to show a little of what’s happening in the world, how she wanted to help these people — like not all Muslims are terrorists, and a lot of people think they are.”
“She writes in both English and Arabic — it’s interesting that they write from right to left in Arabic.”
Middle School Dean of Students Eric Beck has introduced another new initiative in the Middle School: Voices of a Generation. The idea is to have students get up in front of their peers at assemblies and speak about topics that are important to them, whether it's current events taking place in our world, or something more specific to their WIS experience.
The first student speaker was 8th Grader Vanessa S., who spoke about immigrant rights. Her essay is below:
"I care about immigrant rights because I care about human rights. Human rights are the fundamental freedoms that each person should have as a birthright. The United States is a nation of immigrants. It is at the core of what this country is. The United States is founded on the idea that immigrants can come here and build a better life for themselves, their families and seek shelter and asylum from the horrors happening in their home countries.
This has particular meaning to me especially because I am jewish. We are a people that has been marginalized throughout our history. We have been persecuted and forced out of other countries generation after generation. In our first exodus from Egypt we ran from slavery. We wandered the desert for 40 years seeking refuge until we reached Israel. In the Inquisition we were exiled, completely erased from Spanish history. And we fled to Eastern Europe.
During the Holocaust we were persecuted, victims of one of the largest genocides in history and fled to the America’s in masses.
Growing up jewish, it is a theme that we continually discuss throughout our education. It is a part of who we are. We know where we’ve been and we are putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are living that situation right now.
Caring about immigrant rights impacts me because it has caused me to change the way I think about the topic. Before I didn’t really pay attention to how immigrants were being treated. I just thought immigrants were getting deported because they did something bad.
I didn’t know what they did and I didn't have the knowledge back then to question why. I didn’t know how they were being deported or how their rights were being abused day by day. They are treated violently, detained in cell-like conditions well they should at least be given respectable living spaces.
It is stated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights that, “No one should be subjected arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
In Fairfax, VA not far from here, mid February, a group of ICE officers waited outside a church until 6 men walked out of the door.
They stormed them, arrested them and took them away without giving a reason. We don’t even know if they were undocumented. They could’ve been citizens or had a green card. But they were profiled, for their race and violated of their rights. The quote end quote “crimes” that these people have been committed are not directly impacting someone else. We often think of crimes as robberies, murders and violence. These usually affect someone else directly. When they are here undocumented, though they are breaking a law, they are doing nothing to negatively impact anyone else. They are living their lives, doing their jobs and helping their families.
I can imagine what it feels like to be treated a certain way then you have done nothing wrong. I have been in that situation, as little as it may seem. Your rights are violated. And it makes me angry that people have to be put in that situation, it makes me want to do something. And it inspires me to find ways to support the cause. I hope this speech inspires you to discover the things you care about in this world, what you want to change, what you want to do to make a difference. Together we can change the world."
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