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At I-Poly, the World Is Their Classroom : Education: International themes are woven through the curriculum of special high school. Students learn via E-mail with global pen pals.


Around the globe, high school cyberspace is jamming with talk of Mortal Kombat video games, the rock sounds of the Smashing Pumpkins and Doc Martens grunge-wear boots.

Each day, students at a new high school on the Cal Poly Pomona campus can't wait to jump into the action and read their computer E-mail from English classes in places such as Hong Kong, Japan and Germany.

The conversation is the fast and furious language of youth, in which debates on U.S. troops in Bosnia turn on a dime to, "Hey, did you read the messages from those 16-year-old boys in Europe who get to drink beer legally?"

"It's like we're all one people," said Sonya Torres, 14, a freshman at the Los Angeles County International Polytechnic High School, known as I-Poly. "There's one race, the human race. I've lost a lot of my prejudices . . . like the Japanese eat rice or whatever, or the Russians are, like, smarter," she said.

Sonya and 11 other freshmen are part of the first class at I-Poly, a public high school in which international themes are woven through the curriculum. The students, for instance, study English through international E-mail pen pals, math through tracking stocks on the global market and foreign languages at Cal Poly's language laboratory.

On Fridays, students review what they learned that week through class skits. A recent one involved mock interviews with President Clinton and former President George Bush, complete with presidential masks.

I-Poly, which is run by the county Office of Education and Cal Poly Pomona, was funded by a $150,000 grant from the state Department of Education's high school education office. Teachers and staff are from Cal Poly Pomona and local school districts. The county's two other specialty high schools are Cal State L.A.'s performing arts high school and Cal State Dominguez Hills' math/science high school.

Cal Poly's high school is open to students in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties. Selection is based on applications, personal interviews and essays. The first class, which started in September, ranges from honors students to at-risk teen-agers with potential, said Principal Chris Dayian. This month, 60 more students will join the school. The numbers will gradually increase until enrollment reaches about 500.

In the next couple of years, Dayian plans to arrange for the students to spend a semester abroad.

Heather Anderson, 15, said I-Poly is more demanding than other high schools.

"Usually, other schools teach out of a book," she said. At I-Poly, teachers "get right down into the culture."

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