Last November, Peyton Klein sat in her Pittsburgh homeroom and wished there was something she could do. The rest of the class was filling out a worksheet, but a classmate from another country was struggling. “She was frustrated and my teacher was frustrated, but they were having a hard time communicating,” the 16-year-old explains. “I wanted to help, but I didn’t know the girl’s name or what she needed.”
So Peyton reached out to the ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers and students in her school, and they came up with a simple solution: weekly meetings between ESL and English-speaking students. “I realized that if American-born and immigrant students interacted more, it would help us all to overcome cultural intolerance,” Peyton says.
Last December, she formally launched Global Minds Initiative—a school club that brings together native and non-native English-speaking students to talk, take field trips, and hear guest speakers. It now has more than 50 members, with 10 chapters set to launch in other schools.
As for that student who first inspired Peyton? She’s Khawla Issa, 17, a Syrian refugee—and now one of Peyton’s best friends. “We went from just saying hi to each other to hanging out all the time,” Peyton says.
The two teens love dancing and making awesome food together. “Khawla has taught me so much— about Islam and things like why she wears a hijab ,” says Peyton. “She’s also the best cook I’ve ever met.” For Khawla, Peyton is an ally in class and in life: “I’m learning everything from her.”
Both girls feel pride knowing they’ve brought together classmates who might not have spoken otherwise. “I don’t think students know how much power they have to make their school more open-minded,” Peyton says. “When you step out of your comfort zone, magic happens.”