FHN and NCNAA Students Celebrate Friendship and Humanity

Posted on 11/20/2019
FHN students hold welcome signs as the NCNAA students arrive

Students from the Nahed Chapman New American Academy (NCNAA) stepped off the bus at FHN, and a line of cheering students greeted them holding “welcome” signs in their native languages. “
K'ulaj. Salâm. Bienvenido. Welcome to FHN!” For the past two years, FHN and NCNAA have participated in a pen pal program that celebrates different cultures, diversity, and friendship.

FHN and NCNAA studentsThe NCNAA is a high school program for newcomers and refugees in the St. Louis Public Schools. The Academy helps students find a soft place to land and learn English before they transition into public high schools. With the pen pal program, students at NCNAA have an opportunity to make new friends as they adjust to life and school in a new country. “I think it is important for them to make connections with kids outside of our school,” said NCNAA Director Kelly Moore. “It makes them feel welcome to the United States and feel like people want them here.”

The event in November provided students with the opportunity to meet or reunite with their assigned pen pal. Israfil, a student from Afghanistan, is participating for the second year. He shared how the program has helped him to practice his English but has also taught him a lot about school, food, and even the lingo. “I like it because it involves American high school, American people, and American culture’” he said. “We wrote the letters to each other, and it’s good for us, I’ve learned a lot of things from this program.”

FHN students meet their pen pal from NCNAAWhile the students at NCNAA are familiarizing themselves with life in America, the FHN students have a chance to learn about different cultures from their new friends. “We hope this is a bridge for both sets of kids to connect with people that they may not meet otherwise and to recognize the universality of humanity,” said FHN principal, Dr. Nathan Hostetler.

Throughout the day, the students discovered that human connection as they participated in a variety of activities. They showed their athletic (or nonathletic) skills as they played a game of soccer, volleyball, and basketball. They laughed and smiled around a table as small wooden blocks fell during a game of Jenga. They also listened in small groups as students from both schools shared what makes them who they are: their likes, their dislikes, what makes them proud, and what makes them feel like they belong.

“At the end of the day, we’re all human,” said FHN senior Salam Abouchele. “We are breaking those barriers and breaking that line of being scared to talk to someone who doesn’t look like you or doesn’t speak the same language.”  Keary Ritchie, a teacher at NCNAA, shared the value of stepping out of that comfort zone. “There is so much beauty in cross-cultural relationships. It’s so enriching on both sides. We can learn from each other and grow deeper in friendship.”

Dr. Vandeven talks with FHN and NCNAA studentsBetween the friendships, conversations, and smiles that were shared that day, the students were also participating in something larger than themselves. FHN invited the Missouri Commissioner of Education, Dr. Margie Vandeven, and other administrators to attend the event and see the important friendships that were created. Dr. Vandeven had the chance to speak with each group and learn about their experiences and desires as students. “We should not be living within our own walls of our schools, state agencies, and communities,” said Vandeven. “The more we interact with others, the more we learn from one another.”

To end the day, both the NCNAA and FHN communities gathered to share a meal together. Hostetler reflected on how breaking bread is a universal symbol of friendship, and it reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters. No matter what language we speak, what sports we play, or where we call home, at the end of the day, we are all human.

FHN and NCNAA students talk in small groups     FHN students hold up signs as they greet the students from NCNAA

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