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Friends at Parkway school

Karis Yun (left), Ella Shockley (center) and Nawall Mufta in a still from a video produced by Parkway School District.

CHESTERFIELD • Three children at Green Trails Elementary School have a friendship that many adults could learn from.

The Parkway School District captured it in a video that's gone viral this month. It's of best friends — third grade girls — with different skin colors, cultures and faiths. They have found more in common with each other than their differences may suggest.

Nawaal Mufta and Karis Yun became friends at the beginning of their second grade year, shortly after both had moved to the United States. Nawaal is from Somalia and wears a hijab. She helped Karis learn English. Karis, from Korea, started school knowing none, but became fluent within months.

The two would work on math together and became inseparable on the playground. They held hands. 

This fall, as third graders, they befriended Ella Shockley, whose military parents had served in Korea and Djibouti, near Somalia. Most recently, her family had been living in England. Nawall and Karis welcomed Ella immediately. The pair grew into a trio.

“This year, when Ella, came I was a little worried,” Principal Rene Sommers said. “Girls can be exclusive and they don't do well in threes. But they really brought her into their circle.”

Outside school, the trio has play dates. At school, they sit together at lunch. They each wear half of a best friend necklace. The necklace sets always have two halves of one heart, so they took two sets and wear the halves as thirds. 

Green Trails Elementary is Parkway's center for English for Speakers of Other Languages, where children come to learn English before integrating into eight other elementary schools. Children at the school also come from the large Jewish population in the neighborhood. And about one in five students are African-American children from St. Louis. They attend the school through the voluntary desegregation program.

Sommers said the school doesn't teach tolerance. Instead, students learn to celebrate differences.

“Kids and their innocence teach us how to be better adults,” Sommers said. “Kids — it's not that they don't see color. They know that their best friend is black or white or Korean. It's not pretending we don't see it. It's about seeing it, and being more curious.”

The video is the second that Parkway has produced this year. The first one captured the first day of kindergarten at Craig Elementary, through the experience of Adrianna Duncan. She wore a GoPro camera strapped around her chest.

The district set out to do a second video based on an unlikely friendship. “Three girls. Three different backgrounds. One special friendship.” is posted on Parkway's Facebook page and other social media sites. 

“We just wanted to do something nice and heart warming around the holidays,” said Cathy Kelly, spokeswoman for the Parkway School District. “This just fell into our lap.”