USA: South High in Denver embraces diversity
If Denver is an example of what is going on in the rest of America then “Houston, we have a problem” needs to be shouted from the rooftops! Kids from 40 different countries speaking more than 60 different languages make up the scholars in this one Denver school. Only 33% are English-language learners compared to 31% districtwide!!
If the world is fast becoming a global village, South High School is a microcosm of that cultural shift.
The first day of school for ninth-graders was like a visit to the United Nations, with kids from 40 different countries speaking more than 60 different languages in the hallways.
“A lot of people talk about diversity, but we really embrace it,” said Stephen Wera, principal of the school, which sits at the south end of Washington Park in Denver. “We are the newcomer high school for the district. If you come here from Nepal or Sudan, and you live in the city or county of Denver, you come to South.”
The main hallway is decorated with the flags of all the countries that the kids come from. An intersecting hallway boasts the flags of the colleges attended by last year’s graduates, including Colorado School of Mines, the University of Northern Colorado and New York University.
Linda Nguyen, 16, an enthusiastic junior seated under the college flags, helped freshmen find their way through the labyrinthine halls Thursday.
She said she loves her school.
“If you have to do an essay on Ghana, you just have to go next door to get the answers,” she said, pointing to the hallway filled with boisterous teens. “You don’t even need computers or newspapers.”
Last year, 33 percent of the students at South were English-language learners, compared with 31 percent districtwide. After English and Spanish, the languages most widely spoken at South are Arabic, Nepali, Karen, Somali, French, Russian and Burmese.
Some teens might never have been to school before setting foot on this campus.
“If you come from Nepal, or from one of the refugee camps in Africa, you might not have gone to a formal school,” Wera said. “Then you come to Denver and go to South. It’s a huge culture shock.”
South graduated 252 students in 2009, or 67.4 percent, compared with 52.7 percent for the district. Its dropout rate that year was
5 percent, or about 120 pupils, compared with 7.4 percent for the district.
Credit, Wera said, is due to South’s teachers and support staff, which includes people who speak such languages as Burmese, Arabic, Korean and Nepali.
On her first day, freshman Fatmazahra Abdel-Malik, 14, stood in a long line, waiting for her schedule.
The teen, who is from Libya, said she is having lots of fun. “I just say, ‘Hi, what’s your name?’ I’m making a lot of friends.”
One of the high points of their school year comes in April, when a week-long celebration culminates in International Day.
“There’s a parade of nations, and everyone shows off their country, culture and background,” said Wera. “Here, diversity is not lip service.”