This month, On Being International will explore our first core principle, heterogenity and collaboration.
Michael Soet, the writer of this piece, is the founding principal of The International High School at Lafayette (IHSL), located in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. IHSL is a diverse model school with an emphasis on the arts and technology. Students there hail from over 50 countries and speak 24 different languages.
As soon as you enter an International High School, you can feel it. It’s unmistakable. There is an atmosphere of frenetic engagement. Every classroom is abuzz with the adolescent energy of students from around the globe working together on projects and sharing what they have – their knowledge, their cultures, and their experiences. The enthusiasm emanates from each student table in a variety of languages – though you don’t know their words, you understand they are completely absorbed in their work, struggling to find an answer or reach a compromise. It’s noisy and it’s messy, yet feels safe and constructive. But then so is the faculty lounge, where teachers from all subject areas hash out ideas for joint units that will fire the imaginations of their students. The air throughout every corner of the school is alive with endless possibility.
An International High School is a nurturing haven where recent immigrant students are comfortable expressing themselves, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Though our students are at vastly different places academically, linguistically, and socially-emotionally, they support each other in learning content and language. Our teachers also serve as peer resources; whether they are seasoned veterans or fresh out of graduate school, everyone has something to offer and something to learn.
Students often describe their International High School as a second home and the staff and students there as family. It’s the kind of place where a child is just as likely to receive extra help from the secretary or an older student they don’t even know as they are to receive it from one of their teachers or friends. An International High School represents the world at its very best – a place where it’s normal to be different, where diversity is a strength, and where everyone is doing their part to help one another move forward together.
Two heads (or three or four) are always better than one. So whether it’s students working jointly on a project, a team of teachers designing interdisciplinary units or principals sharing best practices with one another, collaboration happens at all levels of an International High School. This concept of collaboration goes hand in hand with the idea of heterogeneity: by grouping together people of varied backgrounds and abilities, a wider diversity of skills, experiences, and perspectives are brought to the table. By pooling these resources, we assure strong and thoughtful outcomes and success for our students and teachers.