Some saw a ‘crappy Title 1 school.’ This DeKalb mother saw hope, joy and resiliency.

The author’s daughter Celia, right, hugs her classmate, who is returning to Iraq for the summer, alongside a student who arrived new this year and adapted quickly.

Patti Ghezzi is a former education journalist who now works in university communications. You can read two of her previous Get Schooled essays here and here.

By Patti Ghezzi

Here are some things I learned during the four years my daughter, Celia, attended International Community School, a DeKalb County charter school serving refugee and immigrant children as well as local kids.

Children are different, and they are also the same. They all need recess every day.

Hijab is beautiful.

Burmese food is amazing.

A filthy uniform means it was a great day.

Charter schools allow families to choose a path that would never be right for all kids but can be life-changing for some.

Great teachers have a visceral love of children, infinite patience and an intuitive understanding of what kids need. They don’t need to be told how to do their jobs.

The accountability movement turns great teachers into average ones, and great teachers expend energy pushing against this force.

Some children need hugs, and school should be a place where they can get them.

Stability and consistency at home and at school are not overrated ideals.

Eritrea is bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

We need another name for gifted.

Gummies are poor snack choices, and not just because they cause cavities. Many Muslims do not eat gelatin.

It stings when someone calls your school a “crappy Title 1 school.”

It stings worse when someone says your school is terrible because parents don’t value education.

Burmese refugees do not refer to their home country as Myanmar.

 If there is a correlation between happiness and how many toys a kid has, I have yet to see it.

Pluralism, as elusive as it is around the world, can exist naturally in an elementary school.

Refugee children have nightmares about Donald Trump kicking them out of the communities they call home.

A student sharing photos of her Iraqi village destroyed by ISIS is devastating not just because the hometown she just returned from is in ruins, but because she shows the photos in such a casual way.

Children are born with empathy, and it’s our responsibility not to wring it out of them.

It is awesome to witness a Bhutanese family move from a small apartment to a house. It is even more awesome when they get a Chihuahua and name him Austin.

Walking in a straight line is not a life skill worth acquiring.

Teachers and classroom assistants from foreign countries bring fresh ideas and perspectives.

The most important thing we can teach our children is to form healthy relationships. A former ICS principal told me this when Celia was in kindergarten, and the idea changed what I value in education and in life.

We should value our classroom assistants more.

The sight of children marching through the neighborhood on UN Day, wearing clothing from their home countries, waving their flags and bursting with pride, fills you with hope for our broken world.

Strapping a baby to your back instead of your chest allows greater range of motion.

Creating a community, beloved or otherwise, requires letting the small stuff go, as well as most of the medium stuff and some of the large stuff. Let everything go you can live without and fight for what is most important.

A standardized test does not measure all or most of what teachers instill in students.

Standardized testing encourages standardized teaching and standardized children.

Class size matters.

Children can be exposed at school to the realities of war, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, abject poverty and all manner of injustice and remain innocent.

Children can experience war, oppression and racism and somehow remain open to the joy of a playground on a beautiful day, the pride in getting a good report card, the wonder of a science experiment and all the beautiful things school and life have to offer.  That amazes me most of all.


















Reader Comments 0


I'd love having a kid go to that school. The problem is that it's not typical of DeKalb. Imagine the plight of a refugee kid dumped into a ghetto school...they deserve a shot at becoming American.

Gilles Konan
Gilles Konan

Yes oh yes; this ICS, this is our school!

Thank Patti.


Thank you Patti - you speak the truth, and I value your article so much because you articulate what many of us know in our hearts but maybe cannot put into words easily. May your words spread far and wide and help inform school planning and educational reform!


Look at those happy charter school students.That's the death mask for the status quo!

Only in America.


Where Patti sees reasons for joy and hope, so many others will see a place to be distrusted--the "others" who cannot be enjoyed or celebrated.


This is gorgeous, Patti. Thanks for sharing.


Because in the US politics runs every part of life?

Cassandra White
Cassandra White

Human society is intrinsically political, but the mention of kids' concerns about Trump's proposals in this article is just a fact and is not an attempt to advance a political agenda. My daughter attends this school as well, and she said some of her friends have cried in class, worrying that they or their parents will be deported if Trump is elected.


What are you concerned about, the comment that children are scared of Trump? That is the absolute truth. Same at our school. Immigrant children who have legal status are terrified their parents will be sent away - even a young African American was worried his parents would be deported. And he didn't get it from his parents. I don't know where they hear these ideas but it permeates elementary school.