Students promote democratic values to a multitude of cultures

A tidal wave of diversity converges on Humboldt High School every Monday and Wednesday night.

The Jane Addams School for Democracy meets to study for citizenship exams, improve reading skills and help the surrounding community.

Teachers here, many of them University students, learn as much as the participants and work together to better the school.

Named for the famous crusader, the Jane Addams School for Democracy was conceived in 1996 to espouse democratic ideals through public works projects and civics education.

Several universities and organizations helped create and staff the school, including students from the University, the College of St. Catherine and Bethel College.

University students play a large role in running the school. A few come from AmeriCorps, a program that distributes students between volunteer organizations. The University’s philosophy department referred others, and students majoring in mathematics and biology also number among the volunteers.

Eric Skold, a 2001 philosophy graduate, has worked with the school since 1998.

Initially referred by his Education in Social Change class, he worked with Hmong adults and children. After graduating, he continued working at the school because he enjoyed connecting with the Hmong community.

“It gives you a chance to examine your own culture in a powerful and unique way on a daily basis,” Skold said.

At each meeting, the staff greets about 40 students and splits them into four groups of common interests and cultural backgrounds.

The Hmong circle is the largest, followed by the Spanish circle, the East African circle and the children’s circle. The circles discuss topics such as holiday celebrations, childbirth and politics. They then break into different groups to study for citizenship tests or work on art or community involvement projects.

“It’s where everybody comes together,” said Derek Johnson, a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs employee and the Spanish circle coordinator. “There is a sense of having a good social space.”

Seeing so many students working toward a common understanding is amazing, he said.

The school’s foremost aim is to ensure everyone is equally involved in the decision-making process.

Through that democratic process, the school works to foster a sense of mutual education. The staff are encouraged to learn about themselves while dealing with the school’s different cultures.

See Moua, a Humphrey Institute employee and the children’s circle coordinator, sees her work as an opportunity to connect to her roots.

“I feel a very deep connection to the Hmong group here,” Moua said. “I feel that they have helped me as much as I have helped them.”

Kathryn Bailey is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]