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Parent volunteers building bridges at Highland High School

highland high school

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of moms at Highland High School wanted to volunteer their time, but they were surprised by their principal’s assignment. He asked them to help the growing number of refugee and immigrant students.

Now, these moms’ efforts are slowly changing lives and attitudes.

The parent volunteers are Lisa Thornton, Deirdre Straight, Mindi Rich and Natalie Connolly. They organized a cultural exchange on Thursdays during the two lunch hours, for students of all different backgrounds.

On a recent Thursday, Straight was putting out giant pages of a map on the floor as an activity for them to do.

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She says playing games and practicing English has led to friendships among the students.

“We want this to eventually be an extracurricular activity or club, where refugee and immigrant students will have opportunities for leadership roles,” said Straight.

They also help in the ESL and English Language Development Classes, working in small groups within two to four students.

Lisa Thornton’s daughter recently changed classes at the semester break and thought she didn’t know anyone in her new class until she recognized one of the refugee students from the Thursday exchange activities.

“She went and sat by him, and now they are good friends. Wherever they are in school, they find each other,” said Thornton.

The moms set up a way for other parents to volunteer for an hour or so as well.

“Parents come in the one time, and they are converted. They love the kids, and they feel like they learn a lot from them. They then go back and sign up for more time slots,” said Straight.
They want these efforts to last beyond their time at Highland High.

“You see these things on the news, and our kids are going to school with kids who have been through these things. I like that they can connect with other kids who have so much to offer with what experiences they have been through,” said Rich.

“I hope our kids see you can help, and here’s how to do it, so in every setting, they will be helpers,” said Thornton.