Cultural lesson

When the boy panicked, Pam Fortney tried to reassure him. In the bustle of the school day, a Muslim fifth-grader forgot his Ramadan fast and ate some chicken nuggets.

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When the boy panicked, Pam Fortney tried to reassure him. In the bustle of the school day, a Muslim fifth-grader forgot his Ramadan fast and ate some chicken nuggets. When he realized, he was beside himself, worried what his punishment would be and afraid he wouldn't be able to continue fasting.

Thinking on her feet, Pam, an ICS teaching assistant born in the US, told him everyone makes mistakes, and if his was an honest one, she was sure he'd be forgiven.

Privately, though, she wondered if she'd said the right thing. So when the opportunity came, during "Culture Sharing Time" in last week's meeting of teachers' assistants, she asked her Muslim colleagues, shyly, what they thought.

"Yes!" they chorused. People slip up all the time during the fast, said Nazdar Amedi, who'd been telling the group about the role of school in her native Kurdistan: People take a sip of water and then catch themselves, or bite into a piece of fruit before they remember."If you didn't mean to go and eat, it's OK," said Hibo Hassan, from Somalia.

"Don't worry, he shouldn't worry," soothed Htwe Htwe, from Burma.

Pam thanked the women, looking relieved. The point isn't that everyone has to be perfect, added Nazdar, it's that they're sincerely trying.

This day they were: Both the fasting students, and the adults reaching across divides of experience and culture to guide them.

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