University High: World Unto Itself

"New World of Cultures, Tongues Test Teachers" (Jan. 26) reflects the situation faced by a growing number of schools in Orange County. The Irvine Unified School District, with its erroneous reputation as being an upper-middle-class, white community, is actually a tapestry of people from the world over.

At University High School alone, our students represent some 54 countries by birth, and bring 26 languages to our campus. More than 30% of our student body did not speak English when born. This has placed great challenges on all segments of the school: teachers, students, administration and staff. Our "school family" has responded with specific activities and events that have done much to bridge the cultural and language gaps which exist on our campus:

* To new students who enroll at our school, and who arrive with their families, a world map displayed in our office highlights all the countries of birth of our students, headed by the banner, "The Students of University High School: We Are the World."

* Our Associated Student Body (ASB) just concluded an International Week celebration, titled "Building Bridges, Not Walls," which featured diverse cultural entertainment by our students and ethnic foods.

* We "Celebrate Our Diversity" in every classroom and promote a sense of family with visual displays, providing a common denominator for our students as they travel from room to room throughout the day.

* A recent Staff Development Day offered speakers from the Anti-Defamation League, the "A World of Difference" organization, the Orange County Human Relations Commission and minority student representatives in various workshop sessions. Parents participated, and a luncheon of ethnic foods was provided for our staff by our involved students.

* The school is in the process of collecting flags from over 40 nations, which will be permanently displayed in our school library. The full-size flags are being "sponsored" by various embassies, parents and students.

Our school is not unique in the effort and resources expended to increase awareness, understanding and, hence, tolerance among our diverse student population. I am aware of other schools that also feel this is a valuable focus of their energies, even with increasingly limited budgets.

However, as the article points out, it is once again the efforts of caring and committed people who make the difference. There is no role more vital for our schools than this, and no greater priority for our country.

CHARLES KEITH, Assistant principal, University High School, Irvine

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