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Words with Friends

Students at Bryant Alternative High School thrive in the unique Multicultural Book Club

Gathered around tables at Bryant Alternative High School's library, pupils sit with teachers, discussing how they can relate to a vignette in the book the "House on Mango Street" about hair.

"People in Ethiopia wear their hair differently," one student comments. "It's not the same here."

Many at Bryant High can identify with that feeling of being in a new place. About 50 percent of Bryant High School's student body was born in another country, school officials report.

It would only makes to form a book club with a multicultural focus, said Anwari Rasul, a coordinator of the Multicultural Book Club and a school counselor.

The club was started four years ago and students have read hundreds of books since then, she said.

"We wanted students to be exposed to multicultural literature," Rasul said. "The idea was to start a book club with a difference."

Rasul was able to secure $500 in seed money at an educational conference to get the program going. Since then, students have read everything from the cheeky "Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America", to the inspirational "Freedom Writers".

"Freedom Writers was great because it really got into the difficulties that the students had and how difficult it is for some students to get an education," said student and book club member Erika Cruz, 21.

Another student, Maria Zavala, enjoys reading the poetry of William Shakespeare, but is also a big fan of Sandra Cisneros, who wrote the acclaimed "House on Mango Street". Students analyzed that book at their latest meeting in November.  

"I love her writing because she describes what it's like to come to another country," Zavala, 21, said.

According to a Fairfax County Public Schools report, Bryant students live in higher levels of poverty, higher numbers of one-parent families, and lower levels of parental education.

"The protagonist in 'House on Mango Street' is aspiring throughout the book to get an education," said assistant principal James Sykes. "The students here have many challenges, but they, like her, are aspiring to get that high school diploma."

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