Two worlds, one classroom
A school in New Delhi opens its doors each week to help its disadvantaged neighbors.
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On one end of the street sits a slum. The neighborhood is confined by jagged wires and fencing. Thatched rooftops form mismatched lines down a sidewalk of broken cement. The contents of each shack may be no more than an old mattress and a wooden footstool for a family of four. Half-naked children play tag in the alleys between houses, weaving in and out of dirty, narrow spaces. The slum is unclean, crowded, and in need of aid.
At the other end of the street stands a beautiful school. It is the American Embassy School (AES). Tall iron gates open into a place that looks more like a college campus than a school for children. Plush gardens and trees in between the elementary, middle, and high school buildings make up the campus. Swimming pools, soccer fields, tennis courts, rehearsal halls, and kiosks are only a few of the things the school has to offer its wealthy students.
AES is not a school for the children who live in the slums. It was built for the children of people from other countries who have come to India to work. But some teachers at AES felt that the school shouldn't be so separated from its neighbors who lived so close and had so little. Something needed to be done.
The teachers designed a program called Reach Out to bring together AES students and jugghi (Hindi for slum) children once a week after school on campus. Reach Out would offer a wide variety of activities, including tutoring, art, music, computer lessons, and outdoor sports. The activities would be divided up into "stations" or booths manned by groups of students and set up around campus. The children could participate in any activity for however long they pleased.
At first many AES parents and teachers felt uncomfortable with the idea of opening their gates. But Mr. Poiman and Ms. Bradley worked hard to convince everyone that the Reach Out program would do much to help their neighbors. "It is better to light one candle than to stay in the dark," they said.
Children helping children
In the beginning, the neighborhood children were shy about coming to the big campus, but soon Thursdays after school became a favorite for everyone involved. And after a few months, the two groups of children figured out how to communicate even though they spoke different languages. Close friendships began to form.
Now, 16 years later, the Reach Out program is the most popular service program at AES. On Reach Out days, students hurry to meet the children as they filter through the school gates, racing each other to their favorite stations.