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CPS Students Will Get a Unique Lesson This Fall

Some Chicago Public Schools teachers are immersing themselves in the city's Chinese, Arab, Indian and Mexican populations this summer. They want to increase their cultural awareness so they can pass it on to their students, and make lessons come alive.

Two dozen teachers file into the Indo-American Heritage Museum in West Rogers Park. A mehandi artist sits in the corner, waiting to paint their hands and feet in henna. But before they get started with their cultural education, they gather in a circle.

NAT: Usually we begin with a formal greeting.
MENON: Namaste.
CLASS: Namaste
MENON: It's not like good morning or how are you. It's traditionally a Hindu greeting which is showing respect to the soul within the other person….

The teachers come here from schools that focus on international education or languages. The Chicago school district arranged for them to spend a week visiting various Chicago ethnic institutions. LaTarsha Green heads the International Baccalaureate program at Oscar Mayer Magnet school.

GREEN: You can read about it and certainly Google it and research, but to be able to walk among people who have immigrated and have made Chicago their home and have done so based on adversities and things, and I think that's something our kids can connect to.

Before Green and the others can teach their kids, they need to understand the city's diverse ethnic history themselves.

Here at the Indo-American center, volunteer Lakshmi Menon gives a mini lesson about the Indian community in Chicago. She tells teachers the first big wave of Indian immigrants arrived here in the '60s to fill job vacancies in scientific and technical fields.

MENON: They were very comfortable with telling their parents, look, we have jobs waiting for us, they're offering us jobs. We'll go there and get our training and learn about life in this country and then we'll come back here and get married and settle down and live in India with you. 

Lakshmi Menon and many in this first generation ended up staying here. She wants the teachers to understand what it felt like to start a life from scratch because that's something their students might be going through.

MENON: When you go through some major life crisis or major situation where you could look for help, there is no older generation who has been through that and dealt with that who could comfort you and say it's alright, it's going to be OK.
DOROTHIE SHAH: Any other questions? Yes.
TEACHER: This may be an ignorant question, but the red dots, I notice, I've just always wondered what they mean or what they signify.
MENON: I think it may be an example of diverse India is....

Menon explains in more detail. Then she goes on to lead the group in a yoga stretch.

Then, they head out to Devon Avenue. There is ogling at the gold shops.

NAT: Oooh, that is gorgeous. I would love that.

They'll end with lunch at Indian Garden. Along the way, the teachers say they're learning new things.

Nicole Aquino, who coordinates world languages at LaSalle II Language Academy, didn't realize people of Arab descent are considered Arab, not Arabic.

AQUINO: I want to share a lot of the information that we've learned with our parents, because you fear what don't know.

The teachers enter a saari shop. One teacher points to a brimless men's flat cap in a rich fabric.

Nat: It reminds me of the kufis. The more we're different, the more we're alike.

The more teachers experience other cultures, says LaTarsha Green, the more they'll encourage their students to do so too. 

GREEN: We've certainly learned, even if it's quirky things like why are the Buddha's ears longer on the Buddha statue, little idiosyncrasies like that, I think kids will be interested in and the kids in us kind of wanted to know those things.

She already has plans to incorporate what she's learned into her classrooms.

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