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WISS reaching out to help migrant people

STUDENTS, teachers, administrators and parents from the Western International School of Shanghai have reached out to the Xujing Town community since last October. Working together, they have helped create a program to advance the English skills of local residents of all ages and to support WISS students' efforts to better understand the places and people around them.

The program is led by Middle School English teacher John Cucinello, also a Xujing resident. He uses a classroom, computer room and library resources as well as playgrounds on the WISS campus to engage and inspire local residents as they work to improve their English. The school's owners, board of directors and the administrative leaders have embraced the idea and have freely offered school facilities to support this vital service to the community.

"I want the school to be seen as a partner in the community and not just a specter of progress intruding on people's lives and offering no benefit to them. I'm always looking for opportunities to serve. Our young people have embraced the idea," says Cucinello.

He has volunteered on school-centered programs for 11 years in the Bronx, New York, as well as on projects in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. He is uniquely prepared to help develop a sustainable service ethic at WISS. The idea came to Cucinello when he was walking in the community and saw four migrant students studying English outside their home.

The next day he returned to help with bilingual Chinese colleague Judy Wang and some school supplies. They spoke with the grandmother and were given permission to work with the children.

Cucinello is by no means the only one that heard the call to reach out to help. More employees and students have joined him to commit significant time and effort to this drive. So far 16 students, from grades four to nine and four school employees have been sharing the responsibility as educators every Tuesday and Saturday.

"It is really important that we are consistent," says Cucinello. "We want the people to know that we will be there and that we are not just passing through."

Structured English language classes are being offered in various ways. WISS parents have also shown their support by driving their children to and from the program, by donating book vouchers and by participating in the classes alongside their children.

The students find it rewarding to get involved. Pairing up with his classmate Tony Hu, WISS eighth grader Koen Kerremans says: "It is fun to know you are helping with their English and reading skills."

Sabina West, a grade six student, loves her time spent with local children. "It's great to be part of their life," she says. "By improving their English skills, I think they could get a better job in China."

WISS students are also learning from their local peers about Chinese life, culture and language. "Our students are recipients as well," says Cucinello. "Sometimes the lessons become Mandarin lessons in which our students are on the receiving end and of course there are those moments of simple fellowship that are enduring and build character as well as intercultural bridges. It is what the International Baccalaureate organization is all about."

As an integrated part of the WISS middle school curriculum, community service allows students an opportunity to serve those in need around them. Helping others unquestionably develops students emotionally and intellectually, honing their planning, communication and leadership skills as responsible members of society.

They begin to see the balance and that it can not always be about "I want" but more about "We Need" as a community. The program is fully supported by the Middle School Principal Tom Kline. "What these students, parents and teachers do every week astounds me. I couldn't be more proud of them," he says.


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