Nearly two dozen languages spoken at Northridge Elementary

Northridge celebrates diversity of students whose families came from around world

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Originally from Russia, Anna Shustikova never planned on moving to the United States. She and her husband entered a green card lottery out of curiosity, and to her surprise, won.

They didn’t know what to do, she said. Shustikova had a successful career in event planning, her husband worked in IT, they had a young daughter, and they didn’t speak English.

“We had everything in Moscow,” she said. “It was a very hard decision.”

After careful thought, the family decided they’d regret not going. So, they uprooted their lives and resettled in Colorado.

Shustikova now works as an educational assistant at Northridge Elementary School in Highlands Ranch, and she’s far from the only school community member with international roots.

Among teachers, staff, students and their families, there are 21 different languages spoken at the school. Among the most common are Russian, Spanish and three languages of the Indian subcontinent: Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

“It’s cool,” said 10-year-old Keerthi Penubelli. “Not all languages are the same.”

Shraddha Sanjay, 10, said she likes having the opportunity to learn about other languages. She speaks Malayalam — another language of India — and Penubelli speaks Telugu.

Principal Katie Lynch said they’ve had some families come because parents received work visa. She believes word began to spread about the school’s diversity, which in turn attracted more families relocating from somewhere around the globe.

“Parents shop,” she said. “I think the word has gotten out now that all kids are welcome (at Northridge).”

The school provides two English Language Learners teachers to support students and interpreters if needed at events, but also offers elective language courses for students, many of whom are already bilingual, to learn yet another language.

Yawen Lien teaches Mandarin at Northridge. Having emigrated from her home in Taiwan, Lien said she hopes to set an example for students in how to respect other cultures. She moved to the United States in 2000 so her husband could pursue his master’s degree.

Energetic and upbeat, Lien often leads her class in songs to help them pick up Mandarin through action.

“I just totally love it. I feel like this is such a blessing to teach my mother language to other students,” she said.

Teaching down the hall from her is Irma Morgione, a Spanish teacher at Northridge. Her parents emigrated from central Mexico in the 1970s when she was in fourth grade. Spanish was her first language, and she can’t recall learning English because she was so young, she said.

She’s grateful her students have the opportunity to learn other languages at a young age as well.

“They learn it a little bit quicker when they’re exposed to it at an early age. They retain,” she said.

The teachers said being exposed to so much diversity teaches children to be compassionate and open-minded toward people with different backgrounds.

“I think it’s so beautiful,” Lien said. “That’s the special part of Northridge.”

When Shustikova first started working at Northridge, she hardly knew English. She sought the job because she wanted to be near her daughter, who’s now in fourth grade at the school.

Today she holds conversations in English handily, pausing occasionally to ask if she spoke correctly, determined to improve. She’s happy they made the move, she said, hard as it was.

“I like it,” she said. “I spend a lot of time with (my daughter).”

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