Allendale Columbia School Hosts Iraqi Students for Summer Leadership Program

Posted on October 16th, 2019 by acsrochester

For the third summer in a row, local Allendale Columbia students participated in the Summer Global Leadership Program, alongside Iraqi students from the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP). IYLEP is a four-week exchange program for promising Iraqi students to visit different U.S. cities and learn about leadership, peace building, and civic engagement. It is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by World Learning. Rochester is the only host city that has American students participate in the IYLEP program for the full two weeks, allowing both American and Iraqi participants to build a strong bond and further break down stereotypes and misconceptions.

AC Program Coordinator Tony Tepedino, shares his reflections on this year’s program:


“For two weeks this summer, I was the Program Coordinator for a summer program called the Iraqi Young Leadership Exchange Program (IYLEP).  This is the second year I have been in this role, and I have been very fortunate to be able to be a part of this program. IYLEP is a program that brings a group of Iraqi students to the U.S. for four weeks. The first week is in Vermont, then the next two are in one of four host cities, and then the students travel to Washington D.C. for the last week.

Iraqi teens choose to apply to be part of this program. From what the students have shared with me, it’s a highly selective process, and a spot in the program is very sought after. I wanted to share a few things that have really impressed me about these students (and families) I have worked with over the last two years.

First, as a parent, it’s difficult for me to wrap my brain around how hard it must be to send your child to another country, let alone a country that has been at the center of so much controversy, tension and, simply put, war. I really don’t know how I would react if my teenage child approached me to ask to travel to Iraq. The courage they need to have to travel from their home in Iraq, to the U.S., for four weeks is no small thing. The  students arrive here with an open-mind and an accepting nature. They stay with host families for two weeks, and with that comes getting used to a new home, new people, new foods, new routines, and a language barrier (a few students shared that their primary English teacher was YouTube!). Having New York as a destination brings excitement, until they realize that Rochester, New York and New York City are two very different places and that the famous NYC from movies and television is unreachable for a quick day trip.

As our busy two weeks began, I especially enjoyed observing how quickly the U.S. and Iraqi students bonded and came together as a group. This is something we work on and teach at Allendale Columbia, but the cool part is how this happens genuinely and organically. There is a real sense of connection, love, and caring for each other that occurs during our two weeks together.

During our time together, we covered a lot of ground, through the city and beyond, to immerse ourselves in a variety of different cultural and skill building experiences:

We ended our time together with a day trip to Niagara Falls and an exposition at AC to share our experiences and learnings with the community.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with, and to get to know, the students who have been a part of this program. I applaud their bravery and their willingness to travel so many miles to learn, grow, and share their culture and perspective.

I can only speak for myself, but I know that I am forever changed by this experience, and I hope that it has left a similar mark on each of the individuals who were able to be a part of this unique program.”

Tony Tepedino

Tony Tepedino

Throughout his 25 years at Allendale Columbia, Tony has played many important roles. He taught physical education for seven years, kindergarten for seven years, and served as the Director of Curricular Technology for five years. Most recently, Tony has taken on two new roles as our Hybrid Learning Coordinator and Faculty Professional Development Coordinator. Tony also teaches in AC's Summer Camp program. He holds a master's degree in Education from Roberts Wesleyan College.

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Allendale Columbia School’s Center for Global Engagement, in partnership with Rochester Global Connections, offers the Summer Global Leadership Program designed for young people in Rochester interested in learning about and engaging in global issues. Students participate in a 2-week, all-day program where they work, eat, and play with highly-selected youth who are part of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP). Together the students receive training and engage in hands-on projects that explore leadership skillscivic educationdiversity and inclusionhuman rights, and peace building. Through cross-cultural collaboration, this program provides all participants with a life-changing experience to help make an impact both locally and globally.

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