The Village School sixth-graders were clustered in a semi-circle in front of a large world map, deciding how they would cover the school’s upcoming Multicultural Festival, as reporters or photographers.
Pins in the map showed where students and staff at the elementary school were from or could trace their roots to. There were a lot of pins: they were stuck in France, Germany, Mexico, Syria, Nepal, Ireland, Nigeria, Hungary, England, Ethiopia, Australia, Puerto Rico, Panama, Norway, Fiji — that was about half of them.
What started as a parent’s suggestion three years ago has quickly become a treasured institution at the school on Yulupa Avenue, which has 428 students and celebrates its diverse student body on Friday from 5 to 7 pm.
“It’s a big mission for our school, to get people talking about our diversity” said teacher Beth McEnery. “Because in talking about our diversity we find out not only about our differences, but we often find out the ways we are the same.”
In preparation for the festival, students prepare display boards and paper quilts that explain their origins. They are not an end in themselves but a means to start a dialogue about diversity. A lesson plan has been developed out of the festival’s principles that is taught through the year.
“If we’re not talking about it, then it just goes in the back of our minds and then you’re not able to deal with conflicts that arise out of differences,” said McEnery.
In her classroom this week, students asked a reporter questions about how to cover the festival for a newsletter to be inaugurated this year.
“What do you do if someone leaves before you talk to them?” said one.
“How do you talk to people if it’s kind of awkward?” asked another
“How do you talk to someone who doesn’t speak your language?” another student wondered.
Devin Villanueva, 12, whose family is Mexican and Native American, said some of the joy of the festival is running into people she doesn’t know, and finding out where they are from.
“It’s really splendid,” she said. “to be able to talk to people about other places.”
That goes even if they share the same background as hers, she said — it’s a bit like a reunion.
“When they ask about your culture — it’s relatable.”
Sara Kee was helping out in the class. She’s a parent of a second-grader and a kindergartener at Village Elementary.
The lead up to the festival has prompted new discussion in her family, said Kee, who hails from Hungary and whose husband is Native American.
“This was pretty much the first time that we talked about the makeup of our family,” she said, referring to her youngest child.
And for both her children, she said, “This is the first time that they’ve actually looked at the world and see, ‘Wow, you’re from all the way on the side of it.”