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Fun, Feast, Friends Greet Kids New to U.S.

Thanksgiving: Private school treats students from L.A. Unified campus for recent immigrants to turkey, songs and soccer.

November 16, 2001|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

New to this country, the pilgrims arrived on a yellow bus. Waiting for them with a bountiful feast were native Americans--in their traditional polo shirts.

Welcome to America, the natives said. Have some pie. Who's up for soccer?

This was Thanksgiving on Thursday for the fifth-graders of Bellagio Road Newcomer Center, a public school for recent immigrants, and their hosts, the fifth grade of the private Brentwood School. For five years, students and teachers from the two schools have gotten together on Brentwood's campus for turkey and the trimmings, songs, games and friend-making. The Bellagio students learn about a distinctively American holiday, the Brentwood students get a lesson on pluralism and everyone tries to work around the language barrier.

"Facial expressions really helped," said Roxie Baker, explaining how she communicated with her assigned buddy from Bellagio Road.

Since 1989, Bellagio Road Newcomer Center has been a gateway to the Los Angeles Unified School District for students new to the United States. Most of the center's 363 students are bused from neighborhoods near downtown Los Angeles to the Bel-Air campus, where they learn English in small classes.

"It gives them a jump-start before they go into the mainstream," said teacher Dottie Saks, whose students' native languages include Korean, Spanish, Chinese, French and Russian.

But the program for immigrants in grades three through eight might be closing at year's end to convert Bellagio Road back into a neighborhood school, a prospect that could mean Thursday's Thanksgiving was the last that these two different schools will share.

Ending the partnership, which continues throughout the year with other get-togethers, would sadden both schools, said Lisa Glick, Brentwood's community service coordinator.

"What [the students] get out of it is how similar they are, because ultimately they enjoy soccer, eating good food and laughing," she said.

Although Thursday's feast was traditional--served by Brentwood moms and ending with apple and pumpkin pies baked by their children--Behrad Gramian told his guests from Bellagio Road that they should feel free to celebrate the holiday as they please.

"You don't like turkey? Have lasagna," the Brentwood student said. "That's the good thing about Thanksgiving."

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