The Arts in Public Education – An excerpt from PIVOT

PIVOT: Empowering Students Today to Succeed in an Unpredictable Tomorrow

Excerpt from Chapter 3, "Life is Like a Game of Cards"

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Chapter three begins with Ravi's heritage and how his parents settled in the United States.  As his family unit began to crumble, he found his grounding in the arts, which is where this excerpt begins. 

While my parents were losing themselves in anger and sadness, I was finding myself in curiosity and creativity. I grew disenchanted with the corporate lifestyle my family represented and started to dream that one day, I would become a rock star. Pleased that I was showing an interest in something, my mother bought me an electric guitar for my eleventh birthday. I was not particularly interested in becoming a musician, but I enjoyed making lots of noise in my bedroom, pretending to be Angus Young of AC/DC on stage in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Between the tensions at home and my new distraction with music, going to school became increasingly unrelatable and unenjoyable. I had friends, but being shorter and browner than average, not to mention having a name no one could easily pronounce, I felt like an outcast. I was bored with classes and probably harbored inner rage toward my family life, which made me increasingly insubordinate in school. Eventually, the principal grew tired of having me sent to his office, so he assigned me to the school psychologist.

This was my “happy place” in primary school—the more disturbed I claimed to be, the more “parole” I received. Playing card games and building battleship models with him was my preferred way to pass the school day. I cannot say he helped me sort out life, but the sessions certainly helped me tolerate it.

Unfortunately, dedicated school psychologists are rare today. School counselors (a title combining both guidance and psychological counseling) are being asked to perform both career/educational guidance and mental health evaluations—two separate specializations requiring different expertise.

As I discovered a few years ago while preparing to give the keynote for the All Ohio Counselors Conference (comprised of about two thousand school counselors and an equal number of clinical counselors), this combined job cannot serve students well enough given today’s high degree of social-emotional stress and a rapidly changing career landscape. Students who are facing challenges like I did are more likely to fall through the cracks.

My parents’ divorce was finalized three weeks before my 13th birthday, and that summer, my mother and I moved to a much smaller house fifteen minutes away in Old Greenwich. I had to attend a new school, make new friends, and embark on a new and frightening beginning. I quickly made a few new friends in middle school who shared a common interest in music, so we started a band. With this collaboration and camaraderie, my interest in music grew. By the time I reached high school, all I wanted to do was drop out and play music professionally.

I had a good group of school friends, but I was also often bullied by others for being a “headbanger” (I listened to AC/DC, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Kiss, etc.) and was called names like “ravioli” and “Gandhi”—yes, I was apparently already very international!  However, the bullying gave me grit, which helped prepare me for the world. While we should not encourage such behavior, we also should not shelter children from the “school of life.”

There were two reasons why I did not drop out of high school: Anne Modugno, who taught electronic music and music theory, and Carmel Signa, who was the jazz band director. I was lucky to have them in my life because drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol were often used and abused by my peers to get through the pressures of growing up in Greenwich. For me, music became my drug, and Anne and Carmel were my schoolyard dealers. They recognized, encouraged, and fostered my interest to the point where the escape the school psychologist provided for me in primary school was more than replaced by the music department in high school. I spent every free period and many after school hours with Anne and Carmel, and they always made time for me to learn as much as I could.

I reconnected with them thirty years later when I began giving keynotes for education conferences and reflecting on who influenced my life. They remembered me as a musically dedicated teenager and very much believed in me. Today, I can call them friends. It is remarkable how teacher-student relationships can pivot into adult friendships, and what gives me great satisfaction is that I not only realized how essential they were to my happiness and success, but I have personally been able to thank them. The music department is why I am not a high school dropout.

Parents should encourage their children to express gratitude toward teachers. Doing so teaches students to recognize the value of their education. Even if many years have passed, teachers will still appreciate acknowledgment from their students, especially since they will also then be able to witness the results. Since I taught music for many years, I know how much it means to witness the success of a student and be acknowledged for contributing to it. Teachers generally do not see the results of their hard work because the return on education is rarely evident before ten years have passed.

The chapter continues, demonstrating the importance of outside adult influences who open doors and provide insights and education that goes far beyond the classroom.  Each chatper also concludes with "suggested pivots."  Here are a few that are listed at the end of this chapter:


Suggested Pivots from Chapter 3

  • Encourage gratitude. Parents should encourage children to express gratitude toward teachers, even if many years have since passed. This is not only encouraging to teachers, but also teaches students to recognize the value of their education.
  • Provide many electives. Schools must provide something for everyone. There must be at least one subject that makes each student want to come to school every day.
  • Emphasize arts: STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) is critical because there is nothing else that teaches empathy, and there is nothing more important than empathy to create a peaceful world. Also consider STREAM (recess).
  • Create a family/school partnership. Families and schools must coordinate and collaborate in both ideology and schedules to best educate the “whole child.” Parents must not view school as a babysitter, and schools must not view family time as an opportunity to impose homework.
  • Promote efficiency over perfect. Perfectionism is a form of procrastination. Teach children to be efficient by setting the example in our own activities and taking every opportunity to show them the rewards of good time management.
  • Focus on less, not more. Today’s students have so much in terms of tools and devices that problem-solving and creativity are stifled. Educators can stimulate creativity by occasionally restricting the tools.
  • Use boredom as a catalyst for creativity. Allow kids to experience boredom and hardship to discover their passions early. Passion is infectious, and parents, teachers, and other adult influences are likely to support and invest in a child’s passion.
  • Teach how to discover opportunities. We only uncover opportunities if we are curious and confident enough to engage in conversations that may have no clear benefit. Curiosity and communication are critical skills. Then, one must feel prepared to seize an opportunity which is where talent and critical thinking come into the equation. Either one has the ability or concludes that one can rise to the occasion.

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Ravi has finished his new book, PIVOT, due to be released before the end of the year.  Learn all about it here:

Other News and Announcements

Ravi is currently available for both in-person and virtual online keynotes.  Click here to learn more about both of these (and see his video specifically on Virtual Keynotes).

A number of school districts have inquired about online convocations.  If you are interested in having Ravi deliver your 2020 or 2021 school convocation keynote, please send us a message through our contact page,

Ravi Unites Schools Update

We had two Realtime Audio-Video Interactions scheduled with Shanti Bhavan in India: one with Bethel Elementary School in Virginia and another with Londonderry Middle School in New Hampshire.  All of these schools are currently closed due to COVID-19 and these interactions will be rescheduled for later in the year.

If you or your organization would like to learn more about becoming a strategic partner of Ravi Unites Schools, please send an email to  Meanwhile, we will still be setting up interactions as we are able.

The Power of Privilege – An excerpt from PIVOT

PIVOT: Empowering Students Today to Succeed in an Unpredictable Tomorrow

Excerpt from Chapter 7, "When Privilege & Poverty Unite"

The unveiling of Krishna Nehru Hutheesing House at Shanti Bhavan in India.

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Chapter seven begins with the section below, and then goes on to explain, in detail, the model of Shanti Bhavan Children's Project in India. This is then juxtaposed with the "free market" education system in Chile. Chilean public education was redesigned under the dictator, Pinochet, by the "Chicago Boys"—the Chilean econnomists who studied at the University of Chicago under American economists Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, and privitazed the Chilean economy following the military coup that removed the world's first democratically elected socialists president, Salvador Allende.

Soon after my 45th birthday, I gave the keynote address for a large education conference in California. I did not mention my family heritage or Greenwich-grown privilege, and in fact, I had never publicized either during my music and aviation careers. It just was not something I found relevant. On this occasion, my full biography was printed in the conference program, and during the “meet and greet” following my presentation, an elderly African-American woman approached me, put her hand on mine, and said, “Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King all came from privilege. Don’t be ashamed of your privilege; just use it for good.”

I realized, at that moment, privilege is indeed nothing to be ashamed of despite the general implication whenever racial or socioeconomic unrest erupts. Moreover, if schools motivate students who have this tool in their toolbox to use it for good, it is potentially the fastest way to defeat social injustice and change the world for the better. I believe the recognition of one’s own power is a stronger force of motivation than the awareness of one’s own guilt. Regularly engaging students in conversations that force them to acknowledge their resources and consider how they can use them for a benefit beyond themselves would be priceless.

Back in 1989, when I graduated high school, the Greenwich public school system ranked in the top twelve of the United States—I assume we were number eleven or twelve because otherwise, we would have celebrated being in the “Top Ten.” During my thirteen years of public education, I attended four different schools within the system. For most of my classmates and me, this elite foundation enables us to maintain our place in the privileged world. Growing up in such an environment comes with a degree of financial security, but it also establishes a high standard of achievement and promotes the pursuit of cultural capital.

Commonly defined as the value society places on non-financial assets that help one move up the social ladder, cultural capital includes quality education, resourceful social networks, and material possessions such as clothes. This, combined with a high value placed on ambition, greatly enhances the potential for financial success. However, happiness and fulfillment may be a different matter. What I failed to recognize in my own privilege as a student practically hit me over the head as an adult, and it was my personal growth during Marie’s illness and discontent with the lack of diversity within the aviation community that reconnected me with someone from my past.

The South Asian Journalism Association had invited me to speak on a panel of authors at Columbia University following the release of my book in 1999. At age 27, this was one of my first professional speaking engagements, and I was sharing the panel with some well-respected South Asian authors. I was clearly the “newbie”; however, since the topic was about being a South Asian published in the United States, I aimed to engage on an equal level since I fit that description.

While Dancin’ with Hanson did not broach the subject of racial identity, my reality as part of Hanson was as a brown person in a high profile all-white American band. At that time, I was also one of only two or three Indians in mainstream Western pop-music (Tony Kanal of the band No Doubt was another, and perhaps Norah Jones can also be pushed into this category). I was able to pivot my music industry experience into a book publishing-related conversation about ethnic and racial biases, and by doing so, garnered the respect of my fellow panelists and the audience.

An Indian gentleman introduced himself to me after my talk, mentioned he knew my father, and enthusiastically solicited me to come and visit his new school in India for the “poorest of the poor.” Abraham George is the founder of Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, a residential (boarding) school on a mission to eradicate poverty. We exchanged contact information, but other than a systematic follow-up from me, I filed him and his school away as a friendly but relatively inconsequential encounter.

Even though initiative is part of my DNA, Abraham was more proactive than I. He added me to his email list, and for the next decade, sent pictures of each incoming kindergarten class. In 2010, he sent an additional picture: the first graduating class. While I enjoyed the cute 4-year-old faces year after year, I was now awakened to his incredible accomplishment and had to go to India to see it for myself...

(The chapter now dives into the details of India's poor and Shanti Bhavan's model.)

...While I am a Brahmin who grew up in the elite town of Greenwich, Connecticut, I never realized the scope of privilege until age 48. In October 2019, I found myself running from army tanks spraying tear gas on the streets of Santiago de Chile while protestors tossed Molotov cocktails at police. Social unrest was dismantling what had been revered as the most prosperous country in Latin America (following the collapse of Venezuela). Similar riots were simultaneously occurring in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Iraq, India, France, Bolivia, and other countries. For Chileans, they had not experienced this level of violence since the days of President Pinochet, thirty years earlier.

I had only wanted to be a curious observer of a peaceful protest, but everything unraveled so quickly. Without warning, I found myself engulfed in a stampede. My privilege yielded no benefit over those alongside me who were suffering from economic disparity, unaffordable healthcare and education, and few employment opportunities. We were equally blinded by tear gas, and we gagged together as we ran.

(The chapter now investigates how education has perpetuated disparity in Chile, and ways to reverse it.)

Here are the first three "suggested pivots" at the end of Chapter 7

  • Use privilege as a positive thing. Schools can motivate students who have privilege to use it for good. This is potentially the fastest way to defeat social injustices. Recognizing one’s own power is a stronger force of motivation than the awareness of one’s own guilt. Engage students in conversations that force them to identify their resources and also consider how they can use them for a benefit beyond themselves.
  • Teach the social contract. Students in public education need to recognize that their fellow citizens are investing in their future. They, too, have a responsibility to deliver a return on that investment.
  • Purposefully expose disparity. If more people with any degree of privilege obtain a greater level of social responsibility and direct resources toward reducing inequity, the potential for world peace would dramatically increase. Schools can and should foster critical thinking and classroom discussions around current and historical events that showcase such disparities.


Preorder your autographed copy now, get it first, and save 20%!  Click here

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Sign Up to Receive Monthly Newsletter & Blog

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Ravi has finished his new book, PIVOT, due to be released before the end of the year.  Learn all about it here:

Other News and Announcements

Ravi is currently available for both in-person and virtual online keynotes.  Click here to learn more about both of these (and see his video specifically on Virtual Keynotes).

A number of school districts have inquired about online convocations.  If you are interested in having Ravi deliver your 2020 or 2021 school convocation keynote, please send us a message through our contact page,

Ravi Unites Schools Update

We had two Realtime Audio-Video Interactions scheduled with Shanti Bhavan in India: one with Bethel Elementary School in Virginia and another with Londonderry Middle School in New Hampshire.  All of these schools are currently closed due to COVID-19 and these interactions will be rescheduled for later in the year.

If you or your organization would like to learn more about becoming a strategic partner of Ravi Unites Schools, please send an email to  Meanwhile, we will still be setting up interactions as we are able.

Educating for Peace – An excerpt from PIVOT

PIVOT: Empowering Students Today to Succeed in an Unpredictable Tomorrow

Excerpt from Chapter 2, "World Peace is Possible ... If We Make it Profitable"

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Chapter two begins in Iraq with Ravi working with four students from Mosul just released by ISIS days before. He then goes to teach in Beirut, Lebanon, and during a dangerous excursion to Baalbek on the border of Syria, he encounters Hezbollah while trying to avoid ISIS, which is where the excerpt below begins.

As we crossed from the Christian to the Muslim side of the Beqaa Valley, we were stopped by an armed soldier standing on the side of the street. He spoke briefly to my driver in Arabic and then got into the front seat of our car. No one acknowledged me in the back, but I was quickly becoming very aware of the Mother Mary pendant hanging from the rearview mirror as we drove away. These two would not even agree on the same God! My heart pounded rapidly.

They spoke animatedly in Arabic, and I wondered what the conversation was about. Did they realize I was an American? Were they negotiating a deal for my being taken as a hostage? Twenty minutes later, we pulled over to a little hut on the side of the street, and the soldier got out. He tapped on my window. I reluctantly rolled it down and attempted to crack an innocent and friendly smile when he asked, “Café?”

While I was trying to determine the best answer, another man approached the car, waving what appeared to be the Hezbollah flag. It turned out to be a Hezbollah T-shirt, which he was hoping to sell me. Who knew these “terrorists” were so enterprising? I gently shook my head, keeping my mouth shut to hide my American accent. By doing so, I politely declined the coffee and T-shirt (which would have been a fantastic souvenir except for the stress of trying to pass it through US customs!), so my driver restarted the car, and the two of us resumed the journey. Sensing my great relief, he made eye contact with me in his rearview mirror and said,  “Don’t worry. He is Muslim, and I am a Christian. But first, we are both Lebanese.”

In retrospect, I believe the solider was just getting a ride from one checkpoint to the next, but this simple yet profound statement of unity encapsulated many life lessons. My own implicit bias, to begin with, had me wondering if I was the subject of a negotiation. Had I been more open-minded, I might have saved my heart from skipping a few beats. Fear can cause irrational behavior, and when the fear is unjustified (as is often the case in racial and cultural conflicts), the consequences can be unnecessarily harmful.

However, the more global lesson is that if such drastic differences can be overcome between Muslims and Christians, why can’t Democrats and Republicans remember we are all first Americans? Can we teach this to Hindus and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, Iraqis and Kurds, Russians and Ukrainians, Straight and Gay, and Black and White? Yes, we can. Cultural competence can and must be taught, and this can be done by first exploring commonalities and then provoking curiosity and civil conversation about our differences.

We soon arrived in Baalbek, and I felt as if I had stepped into a time machine. This city of massive ruins was nothing short of awesome, yet it was also eerie and uncomfortable because no one else was there. Due to the warnings about ISIS and Hezbollah, Baalbek had pretty much become a ghost town. After two hours of walking and climbing through sweltering heat, I sat alone for almost an hour in the ancient and majestic Temple of Bacchus. Its beauty, size, history, and sheer peacefulness mesmerized me, though I was intellectually aware that I was also in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.

While contemplating the juxtaposition of these two realities, my serenity was interrupted by modern technology—breaking news buzzing on my cell phone. Violence had erupted, but it was domestic terrorism on the other side of the world. Ironically, it was happening in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.

On August 12, 2017, white supremacists from Ohio traveled to Charlottesville to protest the removal of Confederate statues. One of General Robert E. Lee sits in our city’s center. The protestors were also gathering to unify the American white nationalist movement when one of them drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. A 32-year-old woman was killed, and two responding police officers also perished in a helicopter crash.

Best known for being the home of three American presidents (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe), along with Jefferson’s University of Virginia, “Charlottesville” has now become a metaphor for white supremacy and racial tension. How ironic that I was having one of the most peaceful days of my life in what is thought to be the most radicalized part of the world when radicalism was unfolding on my doorstep at home.

I returned to Charlottesville from the Middle East with three strong beliefs:

  • Cultural competence is the most important skill for the future
  • Education is the solution to all the world’s problems
  • World peace is possible

As idealistic as “educating for peace” sounds, it is now pragmatic. I believe we will witness the unprecedented simultaneous rise of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and unemployment as technology replaces human workers, along with some type of Universal Basic Income (perhaps in the form of a zero or negative tax rate) to keep the consumer-driven economy afloat. If anticipated by education, the significant amount of human capital released from...

The chapter continues, explaining how technology will redefine society, exploring ways to teach peace, as well as how we can make peace profitable.

Preorder your autographed copy now, get it first, and save 20%!  Click here

Sign Up to Receive Monthly Newsletter & Blog

* indicates required

Ravi has finished his new book, PIVOT, due to be released before the end of the year.  Learn all about it here:

Other News and Announcements

Ravi is currently available for both in-person and virtual online keynotes.  Click here to learn more about both of these (and see his video specifically on Virtual Keynotes).

A number of school districts have inquired about online convocations.  If you are interested in having Ravi deliver your 2020 or 2021 school convocation keynote, please send us a message through our contact page,

Ravi Unites Schools Update

We had two Realtime Audio-Video Interactions scheduled with Shanti Bhavan in India: one with Bethel Elementary School in Virginia and another with Londonderry Middle School in New Hampshire.  All of these schools are currently closed due to COVID-19 and these interactions will be rescheduled for later in the year.

If you or your organization would like to learn more about becoming a strategic partner of Ravi Unites Schools, please send an email to  Meanwhile, we will still be setting up interactions as we are able.

The Unseen Benefits of Education at Home

The Unseen Benefits of Education at Home

the unseen benefits of education at home

While we can lament the lack of "normality" of formal education during this COVID-19 pandemic, we might also be missing and overlooking some of the unseen benefits of education that are happening with learning at home. This unique setting provides an opportunity for parents to enhance their children's education at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four Key Educational Opportunities

Balancing Chores with Schoolwork - A Lesson in Time Management

The easy excuse for most kids when it comes to family chores can be "no time, busy with school." However, this is the time to teach that having "no time" is a choice, and time management is a skill.  Domestic tasks like making beds and emptying the dishwasher are great opportunities to teach children time management skills while balancing these chores with schoolwork.

Some psychologists say that children are so stressed right now because of COVID (this article by Reuters says psychologists believe the pandemic to be traumatic to children), so now is not the time to add more to their plate.  I fear that following such advice may be a missed opportunity in the sense that it is not adding more to their plate, but teaching them how to manage their plate.  Balancing schoolwork with chores and other responsibilities is the perfect opportunity for children to learn the critical life skill of time management. One needs to be flexible, but one need not be an enabler of laziness and procrastination.

Family as a Team

It is important to recognize that kids are under greater stress and suffering from a lack of social interaction.  Parents can teach them that they are also not the only ones enduring stress.  Parents are also suffering, so it takes a team, and a family needs to work as a team.

One way to teach children this given that kids are not seeing their friends often, is by asking them, "What if your friend was scared of getting COVID?  What would you tell him or her?"  This is a way to use the current situation to generate and teach empathy by encouraging children to consider scenarios outside of their own feelings and activities.

The family must also utilize interpersonal communication skills to function and exist peacefully in the home while under stay-at-home orders.  Tight spaces and long hours under one roof can cause anxiety and disruption unless conflicts are met head-on and time is taken to learn to resolve these conflicts in a healthy way.

Family engagement in education has increased during this time and presents a great opportunity for students to also connect with family culture.  An article by,  Coronavirus Reshapes American Families says, "Enduring hardships together builds stronger connections." The article goes on to say that several families surveyed claim the COVID-19 pandemic made them closer than ever. One family said, "We spend much less time on electronics and more time together.  I think it's a product of schooling the kids from home as well as home becoming the new all-in-one."

Families working together as a team has also given children a new creative edge.  From finding quiet space for study and Zoom meetings to finding ways to exercise at home and perhaps even stand in as a barber or nail technician, the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced creativity in children while at home.

Learning about Parents' Work Life and "The Real World"

Students are also learning vicariously through watching and experiencing what parents are doing and how they handle life and work.  In many cases, students might not have intimately known what a parent really does during the day, but now they listen in on team meetings, client problem-solving, as well as see parents juggle laundry, grocery ordering, and meal preparation.  

This article from the Washington Post addresses the impact parent's work-from-home experience during COVID-19 has had on children:  'Seeing a parent's professional identity — skillfully leading a Zoom meeting, getting treated respectfully by co-workers and being important in the corporate context — can have a profound impact. 'Children are getting glimpses into [their parents'] professional lives right now in a way that we've never seen before, and there's a huge opportunity here for learning, sharing, growth and connectedness — both for kids and for parents,' said Neha Chaudhary, psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and co-founder of Brainstorm, the Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation.'

Cross-Generational Actions Increase

Parents should not barricade themselves in a home office all day, as the world has grown accustomed to the "new normal" of children interrupting the Zoom meeting…this is not only ok and acceptable, but it helps redefine corporate culture and cross-generational dialogue.  Kids see what mom and dad do and the boss sees what challenges the employee has at home.

It's a form of cultural competence, but there are also cross-generational interactions that tend not to happen as much in schoolIn school, kids spend most of the time with people their own age.  At home, they are spending most of their physical time with people of different ages.  There are great learning opportunities within this.  

In this article titled Children Interrupting Zoom Meetings Could Be the Reboot Corporate Culture Needed by the Guardian, they ask, "What if it took a virus to reboot our workplace cultures and humanize them?  To give our leaders and managers confidence that people can be trusted to deliver without having to put on suits and judged on what time they leave the office?  One of the things virtual meetings do is put us all in each other's homes. We try to look professional from the waist up. But when that two-year-old bursts in the boundaries between the workplace and the domestic space collapse."

RELATED POST: Has Coronavirus infected equity in education? Millennials may be the vaccine!


In Conclusion

While not being at school has limited some aspects of formal education, the bigger opportunity for the "school of life" has emerged during this time.  With challenges, changes, and limitations, there is the opportunity to grow in compassion, learn cross-generational skills, and develop greater capacity for empathy. Ultimately, might we look back and say that the chances of a student becoming a lifelong learner who adds value to the world was actually enhanced through this time?

Other News and Announcements

Ravi is currently available for both in-person and virtual online keynotes.  Click here to learn more about both of these (and see his video specifically on Virtual Keynotes).

Ravi is putting the finishing touches on his new book, PIVOT, due to be released before the end of the year.  Learn all about it here:

A number of school districts have inquired about online convocations.  If you are interested in having Ravi deliver your 2020 or 2021 school convocation keynote, please send us a message through our contact page,

Ravi Unites Schools Update

We had two Realtime Audio-Video Interactions scheduled with Shanti Bhavan in India: one with Bethel Elementary School in Virginia and another with Londonderry Middle School in New Hampshire.  All of these schools are currently closed due to COVID-19 and these interactions will be rescheduled for later in the year.

If you or your organization would like to learn more about becoming a strategic partner of Ravi Unites Schools, please send an email to  Meanwhile, we will still be setting up interactions as we are able.

The Power of the Arts in School to Create Peace

The Power of Arts in School to Foster Peace

Songwriting retreat in Erbil, Iraq

The arts are an integral part of any school curriculum and have positive impact on not just students, but entire communities. In all my years as a professional musician, music teacher, education keynote speaker, and creator of arts-based programs that bring together people from traditionally opposed cultures and religions, I strongly believe the arts are significant enough to have a real influence on progressive social change, such as promoting peace--I frequently witness peace being created before my eyes.

Finding Unity In Diversity

Art programs in schools can encourage students to see cohesion and peace as great themes for songs, poems, and plays. Beyond the constraints imposed by culture and language, the message can resound with art and transcend barriers to promote cross-cultural communication. However, such an agenda need not even be present.  By being a bridge that unites people, arts organically create global citizens who have awareness, appreciation, and tolerance for the culture of others. The cultural competence inculcated and strengthened within art-based school programs reveals itself in everyday interactions by fostering good relationships, empathy for others, and safe contexts with which to experiment without fearing failure.  As Michelangelo said, “It’s better to aim high and miss than to aim low and succeed.”

On the other hand, cultural ignorance and intolerance inform stereotypes and fear, and breed conflict. As I sometimes say in my keynotes, “We don’t need to teach kids cultural competence; we need to unteach them cultural incompetence.”  Kids are naturally artistic but our society begins to erode their creative spirit and open-mindedness. Art programs ensure that learners from an early age maintain their curiosity, develop empathy, and embrace diversity while finding commonalities that exist within diverse groups.

Cultivating Empathy

Music and other arts deliver an emotive message in a way that words cannot. A song like John Lennon’s “Imagine” which exposes the horror of conflict by painting a picture of unity will be etched in the minds of those who hear it more than just hearing a news update. With that memory, those who hear the song will be moved to do what they can within their spheres of influence to change the situation. Emotions prompt actions.  Art in its various forms evokes the kind of emotions such as empathy that compels one to take measured risks and jump into action as they do their part to create peace.

Healing Art

Music and other forms of art are also therapeutic and healing (The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature). Entire civilizations carry the emotional scars of traumatic events. Without proper healing, these are the same people who are likely to retaliate at the slightest provocation. The cycle of hurt and destruction will only go on, hurting any chances at real, lasting peace.

I have witnessed this personally, first when I launched my initial intercultural songwriting retreat in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2016 (Music can Unite the World). The two-week songwriting retreat saw 16 strangers from ASEAN nations collaborate and write a total of twelve songs in twelve days. They also performed at Jakarta’s U.S. Embassy cultural center, the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, and gave a public concert. Today, the group of Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims still remain close friends and share music online and in person.

Then, when I conducted my intercultural songwriting retreat in Iraq two years ago with Iraqis and Kurds (Iraq: Gaining New Perspectives On Life), I had four Muslim students from Mosul who were released as prisoners of ISIS only a few days before I arrived.  Playing music and involvement in the arts was illegal and punishable under ISIS, so there were young children that had never been exposed to any kind of art. After our two weeks, they could return to a liberated Mosul and use their talent to help rebuild it.  They performed in the streets to help collect books for the library destroyed by ISIS and went into Christian Churches (for the first time in their lives) and played music to bring life back to the houses of worship destroyed by ISIS after using them as classrooms to indoctrinate soldiers. If music can help overcome atrocities this significant, it can help curb violence in the US and unite our increasingly polarized population.

The 2020 Intercultural Songwriting Retreat in Chile

I am launching a new songwriting retreat next February in South America, in collaboration with the Curaumilla Arts Center located near Valparaiso, Chile. I aim to help overcome the rising tensions between the indigenous Mapuche communities and Chileans. The Mapuche Conflict (Wikipedia) arose out of the need for the Mapuche communities living in Chile to reorganize, seek greater autonomy and recognition of their rights, and recover their land. The conflict has increased tensions in the country, which has led to instances of violence and hate. The songwriting retreat will foster an opportunity to build cultural competence and empathy with a broader goal of bringing greater peace to the country.

The Bottom-line

I’ve seen how powerful and effective a location-specific, culturally responsive arts approach can be because of my programs in Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, and now, Chile (learn more here: Today and going forward, I hope that initiatives like this as well as Ravi Unites Schools (see the latest update below) can foster cultural competence and empathy, and lead to global peace.

Can school art programs play a role in promoting peace? Absolutely.  They do without even trying, and if we cut them back, we are directly working against the goal of creating a peaceful society. The values ingrained in these programs will stay with students and go far beyond the classroom.

Ravi Unites Schools Update

Two “Real-time Audio-Video Interactions” were conducted in May. These were unique because Ravi hosted them “live” at two different schools in Chile and was able to interact and hang out with these bright bilingual Chileans students.

The first was between two International Baccalaureate schools: Wenlock School in Santiago Chile and the MacArthur Middle School in Fort Meade Maryland USA.  Approximately 20 students were one each side of the conversation and discussed everything from the mutual disdain for school food to their concerns about pollution and the environment.  They also discovered that they play the same video games and listen to many of the same musical artists, so they exchanged Instagram ids and plan to share music playlists. See a 10 minute video edit of the 45 minute exchange here:

The second exchange was between The Mackay School in Vina Del Mar, Chile and the Orange Grove Middle School in Tucson Arizona USA.  Also about 20 students on either side of the interaction, both groups shared their recommendations of what to visit when visiting each other’s countries, as well as ways to address global warming.  They too found common interests in games, movies, and music, and like the previous interaction, exchanged instagram accounts to keep the connection going. See a 10 minute video edit of the 45 minute exchange here:

The U.S. Education System is Broken, or is it?

The U.S. Education System is Broken, or is it?

Welcome to this month’s edition of news and updates from Ravi Unites!  In this edition:

Please click on a link above to immediately go to that section.


The U.S. Education System is Broken, or is it?

U.S. public education is broken, or at least that is what politicians are telling us. While most statistics actually don’t support this notion, public school systems are being forced more than ever to contend with the school choice movement, and are doing so by implementing everything possible to maintain their enrollment numbers and related funding.  Increased rigor, along with ambitious initiatives from social-emotional to personalized learning to whole-child education, are being woven into the school day. Are we getting to the point where interjecting more educational design might actually be breaking education? Should school be responsible for addressing all aspects of a young person’s development?

The U.S. public education system has its issues, but life will always be the most important teacher. Until we redefine the role of school in our lives, no education system can reach its full potential.

PISA Scores Tell A Tale of Two Cities

When you analyze PISA scores (Programme for International Student Assessment), the latest data shows that U.S. students are average at best. Looking at this alone, one could argue that our system is broken--we should be much better than average. However, when you dissect these scores further and look at schools with fewer than 25% of students on FRLP (Free and Reduced Lunch), the United States jumps right to the top (  

It’s not our education system that is broken, it is our society.  We don’t have a public education problem; we have a poverty problem.

Granted, public education must serve all segments of society and hasn’t figured out how to best serve the poor. Poverty is a cycle, and the resources required to effectively break that cycle go beyond what public education should bear when its mandate is to help all students achieve the same results.  No school can be all things to all students, but every school needs to be some things to all students. Basic academics give a strong foundation to all, and schools must also create environments where the entire range of its community is represented. It must foster inclusion and collaboration. The future requires this degree of cultural competence.

I believe the challenge of educating the poor out of poverty needs to be dealt with as a separate but coordinated effort outside of the public school environment.  If we are going to break this cycle, we need a 24/7 mechanism that is either a residential school like Shanti Bhavan with whom I partner in India, or an after-school plus online program that has this focus.  The Los Angeles-based organization Educating Young Minds is an example of the latter. In the USA, I like the after-school model because I still believe that full inclusion in public schools--regardless of race, religion, and socioeconomics--is the only way to properly prepare all students for a globalized future.

Segregation on the Rise

While freedom of choice is as American as apple pie, “school choice” is self-selected segregation.  It may offer parents opportunities and possibilities to help their children acquire the best academic achievement possible, but it sends us backwards in terms of cultural competence and what most of us publicly claim to want: racial and social equality. This can only be accomplished through inclusion and integration.

A 2016 study by the Government Accountability Office concluded that poor, African-American and Hispanic students have been increasingly isolated from their affluent, white peers in charter and magnet schools. The proportion of schools segregated by race and class climbed from 9% in 2001 to 16% in 2014. (

A recent USA Today article highlighted the details of this disturbing trend. Despite a history of legal efforts that ban segregated schooling, current “choices” lend themselves to this.  Sadly, this will have the lasting impact of instilling a mindset of segregation in young learners rather than teaching and enabling them to truly learn by interacting in multicultural class settings, and to develop the skills and empathy to be positive agents of change.

Where Education Needs to Shift

A holistic education goes beyond the scope of school.  Within K-12 itself, the academic basics and an inclusive environment with mandatory collaborative activities will set a strong foundation for the education of life. Increasing the length of the school day and the pressure on students and teachers to perform reduces interaction with the outside world where children can simultaneously apply their education.  We must pave the way for greater interaction between children and adults who are neither their parents nor teachers, but have much wisdom to share. Finally, we cannot further deprive families of time together. The family unit, for better or worse, is the primary source of a child’s education and identity. For those families who are less stable or functional, having a child with a strong foundation from school can only be a positive influence on the rest of the family, as long as we make sure that the opportunity for outside positive influence from other adults exists.  

School’s primary purpose is no longer educating children, but rather, preparing them to be educated by the world for the rest of their lives.

I would greatly value your thoughts on this subject, so please feel free to send me an email.  Moreover, if you are a teacher or administrator in education, may I request a maximum of ten minutes of your time and ask you to complete the following survey on these very issues?  Your voice helps inform mine, so please click this link and help me out:


Advisory Board Addition

Ravi Unites, Inc., is pleased to announce the addition of Mary Beth Pelosky to the board.  Mary is an expert in educational policy and leadership, including fellowships with the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), U.S. State Department/ConSed Brazil Principal Exchange, and George Mason’s Confucius Institute (China). She is also a former public school principal, administrator, and teacher.  

View the entire board here >

Ravi Unites Schools Update

  • On April 30, Ravi will host a very special student interaction between students ages 12-14 Wenlock School in Santiago, Chile and MacArthur Middle School in Fort Meade, Maryland, USA.  Both schools are part of the prestigious International Baccalaureate program.
  • As noted above....we want your input and invite you to take this <10 minute survey about the state of US education.  Your voice helps inform mine, and together we really can make a difference.  Click here:



Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences

Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences

The practice of sharing a meal dates back to the dawn of humanity. Today we also use this time to learn about each other and welcome others into our families and communities. In many Middle East countries, for instance, “I have had water and salt in your home” is a common way of saying that once a meal has been shared, “we are bonded to one another.”

Many agree that the bonding power of “breaking bread” is tremendously rich, enabling us to overcome great challenges, and even infusing cultural competence in younger generations. I am convinced that preparing the meal collectively deepens the bond even further.

The culinary arts is perhaps the only art that stimulates all five senses simultaneously. My theory is that this multi-sensory experience creates a uniquely strong connection. Therefore, preparing and sharing the daily family dinner is a vital opportunity to reinforce family values and counterbalance other influences that may be less desirable.

Overcoming Challenges through Sharing a Meal

I believe we should consider the possibilities of “food diplomacy” and raise awareness of its potential for positive impact. Dining together is a multi-sensory, tangible experience that can uncover commonalities where previously only differing experiences and viewpoints might have existed.  

The potential for conversation and trust building is inherent in sharing smells, tastes, colors and textures of the ingredients along with various methods of preparation. The total experience can be a catalyst for diplomacy, increasing greater understanding and the sharing of a common experience.  Furthermore, the tradition of raising a glass to a common desire (i.e. “to our health”) unites those around the table.

Teaching Cultural Competence through Food

Today’s finest French cuisine is often created using the animal parts traditionally eaten by peasants. And why is it that countries in the hottest climates such as India and China eat the spiciest foods? Do we recognize that spices are used to preserve foods in places where refrigeration was (or is) not readily available, and what else does that teach us about these places? When you eat international foods, and even more so if you cook them yourself at home, you are personally investing in different cultures.

Several organizations have initiated programs that focus on this. Cooking Matters asks participants to prepare dishes from as many cultures as possible and challenges them to draw relationships between those foods and the respective cultures.They say that foods are “the summation and expression of experiences, beliefs, and practices.” So when you cook foods from other cultures, you get a first-hand taste of the experiences, beliefs, and practices of that culture; you learn about others without assumption or judgment.

Scholastic, as another example, encourages teachers to prepare meals from different cultures as a way of getting even young children to appreciate other cultures.

What Students Can Learn

There is much to learn from cooking and eating foods from other cultures and even breaking bread together with people of these cultures. These include:

  • The people’s identity: When we eat certain foods, we identify with a very specific norm within our own community. Cooking or consuming foods of others will help us learn and appreciate their identities.


  • A community’s pleasures: Students learn which festivals or occasions are associated with which foods.


  • A community’s values: Breaking bread with other communities helps future leaders learn about the values that tie those communities together.


  • Heritage: Taking an interest in other communities’ foods is one of the best ways to trace their history and heritage.


Ravi Unites Support for Culinary Experiences

My Ravi Unites Schools program that unites students from different cultures online is directly aligned with creating community-building culinary initiatives. In fact, a discussion of food is naturally part of every interaction. I encourage educators and especially families to incorporate diverse foods and culinary exploration into regular activities. By simultaneously stimulating sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, a unique and rich experience is created that can break down walls and form lasting connections.

What are your thoughts on this? Please let me know by sending me a message.

Harnessing Your Position for Good



Harnessing Your Position for Good

Last month we looked at how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace effectiveness.  The topic of cross-cultural competence is featured in most of my keynotes, and while my primary points are consistent, I tailor my keynotes to each audience and incorporate current events.

One of these trending topics is “privilege.” Privilege has always been a delicate topic. Whenever you mention the word, it can evoke strong reactions depending upon the context. The word carries connotations of power and often is discussed from racial equity, level of education, or family dynasty perspectives.

I have first hand experience with this as I am part of a prominent Indian family dynasty; I am the first American born member of the family that created the world's largest democracy and governed it for over 40 years.  I have often reflected upon how this has impacted me and what I do with this position.

A question I am often asked is: Can privilege ever be a good thing? And a related question that I believe is important: Is it possible to harness our position for good?

I believe that, yes, those who have privilege have a golden opportunity to use that position to combat social injustices and make the world a better place.

Positioning for Good

There are four steps involved in harnessing position for the greater good:

• Understand the meaning of privilege

If you are to make good use of your privilege, you must begin by learning what privilege means.

Put simply, privilege is an unearned advantage, access, or power reserved for an individual or a group of people. The University of Michigan, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts defines it as a “society-granted” advantage accorded to some people and not others. It is not chosen and is independent of attitudes or belief systems.

More important, we cannot run away from privilege once we have it. The only choice we have is what to do with it.

• Own your privilege

Once you have understood what privilege means, it is time to own whatever advantages you enjoy.  Moreover, these advantages are valuable tools in your toolbox that can be used to change the world for the better.  Do not dismiss or negate your privilege. Make the choice to use it for the good of society.

There are many factors that put us in a position of privilege: sex, gender, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, disability, class, body type, level of education, and so on. What privilege(s) do you have? You need to reflect on and understand your privilege.  Accept that it gives you a unique opportunity and you must embrace it and use it for greater good.

• Open up to feedback

This simply means opening up to the opinions and experiences of those who may not possess your privilege. What do they have to say? For instance, if you are wealthy, listen to what those living in poverty have to say. Some say they possess a different kind of wealth or happiness and are not interested in material riches. What do they think about the rich and wealth in general?

Opening up to feedback is often the most difficult part of engaging with our privileges. However, it is equally important because it is what will give you the strength and motivation to get up and do something with the advantages you enjoy.

• Harness your privilege for the benefit of all

The last step is to leverage your societal advantages to positively impact yourself and those around you. Use the privilege to grow as a person and reach across the divide to offer support and opportunity to those on the other side.

• Harness Leadership through Ravi Unites Schools

As a cultural catalyst who has helped bridge hostile cultural and religious divides in India, Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon, I started the Ravi Unites Schools program to help future leaders harness their leadership positions for the benefit of all.

By connecting schools from different countries, cultures, and time zones, and allowing them to interact, we are able to expand their minds, open their worldview, and grow in cross-cultural competence.  These students then gain the cultural capital required to make them successful leaders of the future. However, unless we engage and help them open up to new ways of thinking and seeing the world, they might never fully utilize these unique powers. At Ravi Unites, we draw from personal and professional experiences to equip young students with the tools needed to transition their cultural capital into cultural competency.

What are your thoughts on this?  

Are you interested in hearing more and having me speak to your audience on this or one of my keynote topics?  

Let’s talk!

How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness

How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness

Last month on the blog I discussed the value of failure and how, rather than trying to help young people avoid failures, we should be more intentional about teaching the ways that failure helps us learn, grow, and ultimately succeed.  This month I want to turn our attention to the workplace as well as to our school environments; specifically how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace and school culture and effectiveness, and why this topic is more important than ever at this time in our nation.

The U.S. is currently in the middle of a significant demographic shift. Groups once considered minorities will together make up at least 52% of the country’s population by 2050, with the population of Hispanics likely to more than double and the black American and Asian populations also expected to grow by a significant margin.

In the workplace, due in part to globalization, customers and employees will represent an even more diverse mix. Most organizations are already experiencing this as they hire employees and serve customers from multiple cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. It partly explains why many large corporations now have multilingual human resource personnel and customer support staff, and are looking to diversify their boards of directors and executive management teams.  This diversity presents workplace opportunities for high-quality professional development to avoid team conflict, bias, and communication breakdowns. Without engaging in appropriate, compassionate training for staff and management, businesses could experience higher turnover, lower morale, and losses in profitability.

To overcome the challenges posed by this shift, schools and businesses need to invest in intentional cross-cultural competence equipping as part of their overall talent management practices. This is one reason why my songwriting programs were presented in Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon by the U.S. Department of State with the focus of bridging across cultures and defeating some long-standing religious, social, racial, and cultural biases. The same principles apply in the U.S. and anywhere in the world.

What is Cross-Cultural Competence?

Culture refers to the shared traditions, beliefs, customs, institutions, folklore, and history of a particular group of people. A culture is shared by people of the same ethnicity, language, customs or religion. Competence, meanwhile, means to have sufficient knowledge and skills to enable someone to work in a wide variety of situations.

Cross-cultural competence, therefore, refers to possessing the knowledge and skills necessary to work with people of different nationalities, ethnic communities, languages, and religions. If a person, school  or organization is culturally competent, it means that they understand, appreciate, and can effectively work with people with different traditions, beliefs, and customs.

Millennial idealism offers a great opportunity to overcome many social injustices, including racism.  This generation is “color blind” and multicultural, so by embracing this aspect of millennial mindset, we can organically grow out of some implicit biases that currently hinder cultural competence in the workplace.

The good news is that you can now arrange for cross-cultural competence training for your school or organization where every generation of employee, from top to bottom, is taught skills to help them interact with people from cultures other than their own more effectively. These skills often include

  • Active listening capabilities
  • People interaction skills
  • Flexibility, and
  • Emotional intelligence

Benefits of Cross-Cultural Competence in the Workplace

There are several reasons organizations and individuals need to invest in cross-cultural competence training:

  • It helps us appreciate the perspectives and views of others

Culturally competent employees are open to the views and perspectives of employees from other cultures. This can be vital in achieving unity within the organization.

  • Multiple viewpoints can help us find lasting solutions

When people from different cultures work together, varied perspectives come to the table. With more ideas to consider, it becomes easier to find lasting solutions to existing challenges.

  • Looking out for each other

A culturally competent workforce also looks out for each other. Individuals are always willing to take action for the collective good. This, too, can be instrumental in achieving organizational togetherness.

  • Helps us develop listening skills

One of the fundamental requirements of cross-cultural competence is to possess excellent listening skills. Everyone at the organization will be willing to hear what others have to say and understand them in the ways that they uniquely express their views. More important, workers will know how to interpret what they hear within a much broader framework.

  • Instills empathy, flexibility, and adaptability

The benefits of these skills are obvious. An empathetic, flexible, and adaptable workforce is productive even in the most demanding situations. When routines, management or the direction of the organization change, individuals will more readily  adapt accordingly.

  • Helps employees resist unproductive stereotyping

Stereotyping is one of the primary impediments to workplace harmony. Cross-cultural competence helps employees recognize and deal with implicit bias and similar vices, thus boosting individual confidence and guaranteeing team morale.

  • Decreases and overcomes institutional racism

Finally, and perhaps most important, instilling cross-cultural competence in the workplace can be instrumental in rooting out racism. At the very least, the workforce will learn to appreciate each other, significantly reducing incidences of racial discrimination and abuse. This was a theme in my keynote two years ago at the National Education Association, where I talked about institutional racism in higher education. This is a pervasive challenge that must be eradicated from our multicultural society, and the benefits of unity in diversity revealed.

With the significant demographic shifts within our nation and the increased globalization of our work experiences, cross-cultural competence has become a critical issue for businesses.  It impacts not only productivity but ultimately organizational profitability.

Let’s Discuss

How will your organization address the challenges impacting workplace culture and effectiveness?  I would be glad to discuss. Please contact me to talk further.

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Ravi can lead a workplace culture transformation for you

Educators: Join Ravi Unites Schools

We are signing up schools and districts to participate in the free Ravi Unites Schools program.  Learn more and sign up here:

In 2018, Ravi founded Ravi Unites Schools—a growing network of over a hundred K-12 schools worldwide whose students participate in peer-to-peer global real-time audio-video interactions hosted by Ravi. He believes that such exchanges promote world peace by enabling youth to bond organically rather than succumb to implicit biases formed by institutional agendas. The idea was born out of his ten-year partnership with Shanti Bhavan Children's Project—a highly successful boarding school in India for the poorest of the poor

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Can time spent playing online games help teens develop cultural competency? What do you think?

Can time spent playing online games help teens develop cultural competency?  What do you think?

A few months ago, I introduced two groups of eighth grade students on a Ravi Unites Schools video conference call. They waved at each other through their laptops and began to chat, and noted the obvious: they live 12 hours apart.

Like most students who participate in this new initiative, their lives take place in opposite realities.  One lives in Mumbai, India, which is home to 22 million people, while the other lives in a small town in the United States.  As one group heads into nighttime, the other begins the day.

On this call, they searched for commonalities across many miles and their different cultures. Sports? One group played cricket, while the other played American football. Favorite foods? Hamburgers and hot dogs in the U.S.; samosas and curry in Mumbai. And the weather? It was hot and humid in India, while the U.S. students in were shoveling out of a late spring snow (again!).

They did share the stress and satisfaction of doing well in school. But this wasn’t what they wanted to talk about. After only a few minutes, they made their discovery: each was mildly obsessed with the latest global teen phenomenon: multiplayer online gaming.

Before the end of this real-time audio-video interaction, the two schools agreed to find a day and time to team up and play.

What are your thoughts about the value of online gaming for teens across the world?

While some fear that too much time online can create unhealthy habits, from my view multiplayer online gaming appears to be a unique way to cultivate cultural competence. It develops a ‘macro-mindedness’ as youth connect and team up with peers they would otherwise never meet.  The opportunity for leaders is to harness the potential of this reality to see that deeper learning takes place. To live and thrive in this world, today’s children must learn the intricacies of a connected globe.

To help education leaders encourage peer-to-peer dialogue and increase cultural competency in youth, we are setting up more real-time audio-video interactions for the 2018-19 school year.  There is no cost for participation. We will gladly help you connect with a school around the globe that offers cultural diversity, and we will take the lead on organizing an interaction between your students and theirs.  Just convey your interest by contacting Ravi Unites Schools directly at