When you set foot inside District of Columbia International School in Northwest Washington, D.C., you immediately get the sense that this is the kind of place that prepares global-ready graduates. There are flags from around the globe decorating bulletin boards and a huge world map painted on a wall. There’s a middle school French class conducted exclusively in advanced French–and similar classes in Spanish and Chinese. In an advisory class, articulate 6th graders gathered in a circle to talk about objects they’ve brought from home that highlight aspects of their families’ cultures.
On the day I visited the school, some of those 6th graders shared their objects with me.
Amirah Jamal displayed a handmade basket from Uganda, which she said reminds her of her grandmother and cousins in the African nation. Elizabeth Comfort-Cohen held up a fabric menorah that her family uses each Hanukkah. Alexi Bentura showed off a bag that his grandmother weaved in El Salvador. “It represents my family because the weaving has a close bond like my family,” Alexi said proudly.
Ines Baldi held a small plate from Tunisia with a camel painted on it—something she has had her whole life. Her name is engraved on the plate; her family has a larger plate that includes the names of all her family members. And Tayler Dindyal displayed a handheld Colombian flag, telling me that his mother is from Colombia. “My class took a field trip in 5th grade to New York,” he said. “I bought the flag at Ellis Island for my mom.”
In his article in the December/January issue of Educational Leadership, the school’s principal, Simon Rodberg, writes about his “culture-positive school.” He believes that the path toward global readiness begins with students being able to voice their own culture. That skill and his school’s diversity-friendly environment are developed through activities like language study and sharing family artifacts.
“The message to students is that you can bring your whole self to this school; you can bring who you are on this educational journey,” he writes. “You don’t have to leave your family or culture behind.”
Kim Greene is senior associate editor of Educational Leadership. Follow the magazine on Twitter @ELmagazine.