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Skateboards For Syrians: Students Help Classmate Make Good On Decade-Old Promise

Lisa Griffin, Abdullah Alexander and Natalie Alli pose for a photo with High ...

Photo by Megan Burks / KPBS

Above: Lisa Griffin, Abdullah Alexander and Natalie Alli pose for a photo with High Tech High and High Tech Elementary students, June 14, 2017.

Students at High Tech High in Point Loma are wrapping up their school year — and a special gift for Syrian refugees. They will send 15 skateboards to a Jordanian afterschool program for Syrian children.

But there is more to the story than a nice gesture.

"I call you all 'The Dream Keepers' because Abdullah had a dream, a wish that he made when he was seven," said high school humanities teacher Lisa Griffin.

She was talking to fourth-graders from High Tech Elementary next door about Abdullah Alexander. The High Tech High junior lived in Syria while his father was attending a university program there. When he left, he promised he would return with skateboards for all of his friends. Five years later, a civil war broke out.

Video by Megan Burks

Students at High Tech High in Point Loma are wrapping up their school year — and a special gift for Syrian refugees.

"Obviously for now I can't be going back there anytime soon, so that's why this project is really important to me," Alexander, 18, told the students. "We're going to send them to refugee kids over there and then my friends might happen to get one of them, which would be awesome."

RELATED: City Heights Soccer Team Sees Glory In Playing For Syria

The effort came together by chance, born out of the school's focus on project-based learning, a style of learning in which children gain skills and understanding by tackling real-world problems and current events.

Griffin's class was tackling refugee resettlement when one of her students interviewed Alexander about his experience in Syria. Natalie Alli's fourth-grade class was exploring skateboarding culture and using skateboards donated by San Diego company Sector 9 to learn core subjects.

"We did a lot of reading around it, we learned about the physics of skateboarding, how a skateboard ramp is an incline plane," Alli said.

So Griffin's and Alli's classes partnered up to make Alexander's dream come true.

By Megan Burks

High Tech Elementary fourth-grader Lizbel Altorre works on a skateboard for Syrian refugees, June 14, 2017.

Fourth-grader Leah Cienega and sophomore Ariana Campos designed a board with bright but calm colors bleeding into one another. They assigned each a special meaning.

"I chose orange for freedom because you can use this board whenever you want to and it probably will make the person feel happy," Cienega said.

They chose lilac to signify imagination. "Even though they are in these refugee camps, they're still kids, they still want to play, they still want to have fun," Campos said. "So they can use their imagination. This can be a sailboat to them, this could be a sled riding down hills, it can be a skateboard."

Their skateboard will be packaged with the others, along with handwritten messages. The students are still trying to raise money to ship them.

"It feels amazing, because I made an innocent promise a long time ago and I didn't think anything of it until recently," Alexander said. "And it's pretty awesome because, like, people over there they're the same as we are. The only difference is they're being terrorized all the time. And I feel like it's awesome for them to experience something good out of all the evil things that are going on."

More than a thousand Syrian refugees have come to San Diego in the past year, fleeing fighting between forces loyal President Bashar al-Assad, his opposition and Islamic State militants. Hundreds of thousands remain displaced at home and in refugee camps awaiting placement abroad.

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