Diversity: East Ridge Elementary has students from 20 nations
The face of the Tennessee Valley is rapidly changing, and nowhere is that more evident than at East Ridge Elementary School. Not that many years ago, all the students looked the same. Today you'll find incredible diversity, with students from more than twenty nations, all under the same roof.
The school is believed to be one of the most diverse in Tennessee. The students say that is working out very well.
Diya Vashi, whose parents are from India and Zambia, said, "It's fun because you meet students who speak so many different languages, and you can communicate with them." Diya's "best buddy," East Ridge native Mahala Ezell agrees. "You can make so many friends this way. I have friends from so many other countries, and they teach me so much. It's a good way to learn to understand other cultures."
Principal Gail Huffstutler says about 75 percent of the student body is Caucasian or African-American. The rest are from all over the world. Some can't speak a word of English when they walk in the door. She said almost all of the foreign-born students live in the school's zoned area. A few are zoned for schools that do not offer ESL (English as Second Language) teachers. Within a few weeks, the new students are able to speak English well, and many soon become interpreters for their parents, who haven't mastered English. "It's a beautiful thing to watch," she said. "I have a great staff here that does such a wonderful job of communicating with students who speak so many languages. We're just one big family."
Teaching students of so many languages and cultures can pose a challenge. Second grade teacher Karen Schmidt knows she has to get their attention visually at first. The verbal part comes later.
Schmidt said, "My students who are struggling with language need more visual cues. But at the end of the year, they're where they need to be. They try really hard to fit in, and after they've been here a few weeks, they've mastered most of the basics. I feel very fortunate to be here, and to be a part of this."
East Ridge students say they're lucky to see the faces of the world in person every day, faces most of us once saw only in geography books. They wish every school could be like theirs.
Eldin Mujkanovic, a 2nd grader from Bosnia said, "If all schools had people from around the world, maybe everyone could all get along with each other, like we do."