Lydia Podowitz, 18, started the school year with a new way for students to build friendships. The senior at Lakeside High School launched Friendship Circuit, a new club that brings together students from the English as a Second Language and mainstream communities for conversation and casual bonding.
The peer mentoring program was a part of Podowitz’s Girl Scout Gold Award project to help welcome new students and create an atmosphere where everyone can learn from each other.
“I was surprised how eager people were to get involved. I think a lot of the ESOL students involved are less inhibited in front of native-English speakers, and they have shown the most enthusiasm about the initiative,” said Podowitz, who was inspired by her mentor Kathi Frankel. Frankel volunteers with International Rescue Community in Clarkston.
Fifty ESOL students and 21 native English speakers are actively participating in Friendship Circuit. Within DeKalb County School District, more than 21 languages are spoken by students from more than two dozen countries.
Courtney Robinson, Friendship Circuit sponsor at Lakeside, knew this is exactly what the school needed.
“New English language learners don’t cross paths with honors students at Lakeside, and everybody loses out,” she said. “Friendship Circuit gives ELLs a rare opportunity to get more integrated into the mainstream, and gives U.S.-born kids exposure to other parts of the world.”
Many students who volunteer can empathize the experience and give back to make it a welcoming community for everyone.
Yana Kulyk, 17, is a first-generation Asian American and aspiring ESOL teacher.
“Clubs like Friendship Circuit not only help build cross-cultural friendships, but it is simply a great outlet for meeting students that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to interact with,” she said.
Podowitz hopes the club continues once she graduates high school. With juniors involved, she sees the club’s outreach to continue and bridge together communities that already work together. She also hopes this club expands to other schools in Atlanta.
“It takes a lot of courage to step out of your comfort zone, and try to understand a whole new culture and language,” added Podowitz. “And, it’s making our community stronger.
In other news: The James M. Cox Foundation presented a $1,090,000 grant to the Atlanta Community Food Bank to establish and incubate Food Well Alliance. The new organization will expand access to locally-grown food and connect stakeholders with common goals to build healthier, sustainable communities.
Who’s doing good? Each Tuesday, we write about charity events such as fun-runs, volunteer projects and other community gatherings that benefit a good cause. To suggest an event for us to cover, contact Devika Rao at doing.goodAJC@gmail.com