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Wildwood Middle goes Global

June 03, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE
  • Essence Underwood sneaks behind classmate Whitney Foster Thursday at International Day at Wildwood Middle School near Shenandoah, W.Va. The 8th-graders were playing a Haitian game of blind man's bluff.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.VA. -- Students at Wildwood Middle School spent Thursday listening to speakers who helped them understand the world's diverse cultures with an emphasis on Afghanistan.

The war-torn Central Asian country got particular focus Thursday and through most of the school year because many of the students have family members or friends in the military stationed in Afghanistan, teachers said.

Wildwood Middle, part of the Jefferson County Schools system, is one of eight West Virginia schools chosen by the state Department of Education to participate in the GoGlobal program. The year's worth of study culminated Thursday with the day devoted to learning about other countries and cultures.

A highlight was a lunch that featured qabili pilau, an Afghan staple made with chicken, rice, beans, raisin, carrots and onions livened up with traditional spices like cardaman, cumin and cinnamon.

It differed from the students' normal cafeteria fare of pizza, spaghetti, Salisbury steak, chicken patties and fish sticks.

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"It's sweet and it's got a good flavor," said sixth-grader Christian Johnson.

Trey Thomas said he'd order qabili pilau in a restaurant.

Every kid in the cafeteria was lunching on qabili pilau and most washed it down with chocolate milk.

All the students read Greg Mortenson's book, "Three Cups of Tea." It tells of Mortenson's turn from mountain climber to a humanitarian who raises money to build more than 1,000 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Wildwood Middle students launched a pennies for peace drive that netted $600 during the school year for pencils and supplies for schools in Central Asia, said Carolyn Thomas, a seventh-grade science teacher and member of the school's GoGlobal organizing team.

"Afghanistan is part of the world that the students didn't know much about, and it's a country that our country is intimately involved with," Thomas said.

More than 20 speakers from within and outside the school spoke to the classes Thursday.

Among them were Said Mirzad, 79, an Afghan-American who came to the United States in 1981, a year after the Russians invaded his country. A geologist, computer scientist and math teacher, Mirzad, who lives in Ashburn, Va., works for the U.S. Geological Survey. He spent 2 1/2 years in Afghanistan at the U.S. Embassy as a senior advisor on the country's natural resources.

He said the students were receptive and attentive.

"I told them the United States is a country where the only limit on yourself is your own imagination."

Toob Mayel, another Afghan-American, came here when she was 5 years old. She teaches intelligence analysts and military officers being deployed to Afghanistan.

"I found most of the students to be knowledgeable about Afghanistan," she said. "They asked good, relative questions."

Her talks centered on comparisons between the lives of Wildwood middle schoolers and similar-aged Afghan children.

In Jefferson County, they attend a modern school. In Afghanistan, they go to school only if they have an opportunity.

"Their schools don't have buildings, desks and chairs, electricity or transportation," she said. "They study outside, especially in the rural areas."

Most Wildwood students have cell phones, a device that Afghan children don't have access to until their late teens, Mayel said.

"The Afghan people have endured 35 years of war, and still they survive. They still have hope," she said.

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