Change is happening all around us, all the time. How do we face it? Are we afraid or do we see new possibilities? When new immigrant and refugee students started coming to her school, Peyton Klein saw the possibility for mutual learning and support.
Peyton Klein is the descendant of Jewish refugees who faced cultural intolerance and discrimination when they immigrated to the United States. Given her family history, Peyton has always considered herself sensitive to the struggles immigrants face in America today. She believes that “we can all, in some way, identify with the immigrant refugee experience, whether you’ve been excluded in the lunchroom, or bullied. . .We have all been in that position.” Peyton brought these values of inclusivity and tolerance to her work in her community. But one day, she realized that she knew the names of all the students in her homeroom except one. “I made the incorrect assumption,” Peyton explains, “that simply because she wore a hijab and always sat quietly, she didn't speak English.” As Peyton came to know this student (named Khawla) she realized that she wasn’t living the inclusive values she believed in her daily life. Khawla shared the struggles she faced in high school as a Syrian refugee, and through this friendship, Peyton became inspired to connect with and learn from other immigrant students in her school. Peyton began the Global Minds Initiative that year at the age of 15 as a for-youth, by-youth organization dedicated to bringing together native-English-speaking students and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students in a relationship of mutual learning and support.
Through after-school programming, Global Minds Initiative enables students to confront stereotypes and discrimination, creating what Peyton describes as “more globally and culturally competent young leaders.” ESL students gain valuable conversational English instruction and practice with their native English speaking peers while contributing important global insights and perspectives on subjects such as human rights, diversity, sustainable development, and cultural identity. “In Global Minds”, says Peyton, “we say there is no volunteering. It’s a two- way stream. I can learn from you about your culture, and your experience, and your knowledge, and in return, I can support you in navigating the school system.”
Peyton believes that even small successes made because of participation in Global Minds Initiative such as waving in the hallway and sitting together in the lunchroom can make a world of a difference for a student and can make a new school “feel like home.”
Peyton has herself experienced the kind of stereotyping and close-mindedness her program aims to fight. In her case it is for being young. Many adults have doubted her ability and intentions. But she is grateful for having found some adults who have proven to be key allies and supporters for the Global Minds Initiative and believes that all young people should be supported as changemakers. “We need a whole new set of skills,” explains Peyton, “We need changemaking literacy. The education systems needs to speak more to that. . . .When youth are empowered and engaged it’s not just a win for the students involved, it's a win for our communities, and it's a win for everyone.”
Caroline DelAngelo and Lucy Eills contributed to this story.