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School's flags honor heritage of diverse student population

Administrators at an elementary school in Scranton wanted to celebrate the school's diversity and came up with an eye-catching way to show everyone.

SCRANTON, Pa. — When a cool breeze comes down Capouse Avenue in Scranton, John Adams Elementary can really show its colors. Flags from all over the world hang outside the school.

Assistant Principal Lisa McConlogue wanted to represent the countries her students come from. She never expected to need quite so many flag holders.

"In my mind, I thought maybe six, and we were trying to figure out how we could spread them out on each side so it would still look pretty. And my secretary Debbie, she said to me, 'Lisa, there's 24!' We had no idea that this little school spread to, literally, all corners of the earth," McConlogue said.

There are 24 flags from countries covering five continents—a uniquely diverse cross-section in Scranton's Pinebrook section.

"I think the community needs to know that, so they can appreciate us more."

When an immigrant student comes to school here, Isnerva Gonzalez may be one of the first staff members they meet. She's one of the Scranton School District's Spanish language translators. The language barrier is just one of the hurdles immigrating students have to clear.

"If they feel welcome in the community, they will have more success in life. It will make things a lot easier when they feel comfortable with the community," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez has been working with third-grader Josian Maldonado since he moved to Scranton from Honduras when he was 5.

"I like English. When we go to the market, I can help my mother," he said.

As the oldest child in his family and the only one receiving formal training in English, Josian plays a big role in helping his family assimilate in their new home.

"This school is awesome, and I like it. All the teachers help and all the other children help to learn English."

While the students come from 24 native countries, there are as many as 30 native languages.

Tek Panday translates for the students who are from Bhutan and Nepal.

"The hope I can expect from the students is at least they can be able to sustain their life," Panday said.

"We are really truly family here," Gonzalez said.

The kids don't notice the diversity here like the adults do.

Heather Shamaski, who teaches English as a second language, says maybe it's the grown-ups who have the most to gain.

"As soon as I get a new country or a new student from a new country, I try to read about it and learn about it. But they give you a whole different aspect. They tell you things you'd never read about," Shamaski said.

Teachers and students in every school in the country have faced big challenges this year. But at John Adams, where some students are in American classrooms for the first time post-pandemic, the challenges can sometimes seem insurmountable.

But the measure of success is actually pretty simple.

"I want them to understand, too, that they can do whatever they want. As long as they leave with that understanding from me so that they know there's no limitations on what they can do," Shamaski added.

Making sure the students are seen inside these walls.

"I think it's just really important that we're all aware that they're here and extremely aware of the outstanding contributions that they make to our city, to our state," McConlogue added. "The culture that they bring is just immeasurable."