Lakeside High School senior Lydia Podowitz knew her school was diverse. Still, she noticed that the school’s English as a Second Language (ESOL) students needed an opportunity to connect with their classmates.
So Lydia, 18, did something about it. She founded Friendship Circuit, a club that brings ESOL students together with the rest of the student body for conversation and casual bonding.
“It occurred to me that as a student body, we tend to ignore diversity most of the time,” Lydia said. “There seemed to be a real gap in the ESOL and mainstream populations.”
Now, students are working together to bridge that gap. The club, Lydia says, gives all students a chance to embrace global citizenship. ESOL students know they’re valued by their peers, and all students, in Lydia’s words, “are recognizing that the people they thought were too different to relate to are actually just like them.”
As time goes on, students are opening up and having conversations that wouldn’t have been possible before. “One girl really opened up about her reasons for coming to the United States,” Lydia says. “I am so proud that my peer group could create an environment in which everyone felt safe and eager to share.”
For other students who want to make a difference in their school, Lydia offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid to try something out! Even if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, it will probably make at least a small difference. It’s a trial and error process. You’ll learn as you go.”
Full Q&A with Lydia:
The basics: senior at Lakeside High School, favorite subjects are literature and German, ambition is to study in an international relations or pre-law program
When did you decide to start Friendship
Circuit? What made you realize it was a need in your school?
As a Girl Scout, I always knew I would complete a
Gold Award project. I wanted to do something that would allow me to work with
people directly. I volunteered at the Globe Academy with my school’s National
Honor Society at the end of my junior year. The Globe Academy is a public
school with an international focus.
This experience caused me to think about Lakeside’s
international and immigrant populations and how they provide all the resources
to embrace global citizenship. Yet at Lakeside, we set aside only one day a
year to celebrate the international aspect of our student body. It occurred to
me then that as a student body, we tend to ignore diversity most of the time.
There seemed to be a real gap in the ESOL and mainstream populations.
was the process of getting the club off the ground like?
Creating an official club at Lakeside is very easy.
However, getting people involved is not. Communicating with Lakeside’s ESOL
teachers has been immensely helpful. All of the ESOL teachers are great about
delivering announcements and updates about the club to their students, and
encouraging them to get involved. The Spanish National Honor Society has also been
My club sponsor, Mrs. Courtney Robinson, has gotten
many students involved and has been encouraging in every way. Once we all had
been to a few meetings, it became very easy to feel comfortable around one
another. I was surprised how quickly everyone began to enjoy our time together.
been your favorite moment since starting the club?
Earlier in the fall, we had an interesting
discussion about stereotypes. One girl really opened up about her reasons for
coming to the United States. I am so proud that my peer group could create an
environment in which everyone felt safe and eager to share.
some ways you think students have benefited from membership in Friendship
I hope that the ESOL community feels more welcomed
and part of the school. I’d like to think that ESOL students feel valued by
their English-speaking peers, and that English-speaking students enjoy getting
to know their peers in ESOL. If anything, I think students are recognizing that
the people they thought were too different to relate to are actually just like
advice would you give to a student interested in starting a similar
Don’t be afraid to try something out! Even if it
doesn’t work out the way you want it to, it will probably make at least a small
difference. It’s a trial and error process. You’ll learn as you go.