- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) - Ten year-old Sadia Zakaria, who spoke little English when she moved here from Egypt last summer, recited a poem Monday at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School that she had written to show that “on the inside, people are all the same.”

The fifth-grader, whose Sudanese family came here last summer with the help of the New London Area Refugee Settlement organization, which is also called Start Fresh, wore a crimson hijab and a huge smile as she recited the poem.

“All the people are the same

If their skin is white or black or brown or tan

On the inside they are all the same

All people want peace

All people want to be safe with their families

All people want to go to school to learn and speak all the languages

All people want to work and make their family so they don’t want anything

All people want to be equal

All people want to go where they want to go

All people want to be happy.”

Sadia said she loves school and was able to learn English so quickly because, “Everyone helped me.”

The audience for her poetry debut consisted of classmates of every hue who had filed into the gymnasium, sat cross-legged on the floor and during a brief assembly obediently waved their hands in the air in “silent applause” and sang along to folk music.

The purpose of the assembly was to learn about refugees, which a member of the school’s student leadership council defined for the group as “a person who comes from another country to start a new life, usually because of war or a natural disaster.” Ron Ward and Cheryl Molina from Start Fresh brought with them children from a Syrian family that just arrived in the region and who will be attending the magnet school.

“Thank you for welcoming new people and refugees to your school,” Ward told the children. The school will be holding a “hat day” fundraiser for the refugee group on Friday.

The happy mingling of cultures from all over the world is nothing new at the magnet school, which has 531 students in grades one to five from 21 Connecticut communities. Between students and staff, every continent except for Antarctica and Australia is represented, along with at least 10 languages, according to English Language teacher Sue Goldstein. Maps and globes are a common decorative theme at the school, where an important part of the mission is learning about and appreciating the diversity of the world’s communities.

“The (school has) been a shining example of how people from different cultures come together,” said Ward.

To demonstrate that diversity, Goldstein asked students who had come from another country to stand. Many did, and most of the rest followed when Goldstein asked those whose parents had come from another country to stand.

Refugee families are not new to the school.

“Some families came here from Haiti after the earthquake,” said Head of School Susan Iwanicki. “There’s nothing like having a 10-year-old tell you, ‘I was buried alive.’ “

One of the Haitian students, standing with classmates from Senegal and South Korea, said she had come to the United States at age 2 after the January 2010 earthquake, and that she and her mother had marked the anniversary by celebrating “a day that we weren’t dead.”

Maureen Pierandi, manager of recruitment for the RMMS, said that helping people feel good about where they come from and one another is what the school is about.

“It’s a timely message, but we’re been doing it for 26 years,” she said.

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Information from: The Day, https://www.theday.com

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