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West Hartford’s Charter Oak International Academy Celebrates Cultural Day

Students visit the Colombia table. Photo credit: Gregory Scranton

This year’s Cultural Day Celebration at West Hartford’s Charter Oak International Academy had an Olympic theme, as the community came together to celebrate students’ wide variety of cultural backgrounds.

Submitted by Lisa Yasuhara Scranton

Every year, West Hartford’s Charter Oak School community hosts a very special event where students, families, faculty, and staff celebrate cultural diversity through a festive Cultural Day Celebration.

The event grows bigger every year as students from pre-K to fifth grade get a chance to proudly display their family’s cultural background.

This year, the event was based on the Olympics, which many students watched last summer showcasing athletes from countries around the globe. For the first hour and a half, families moved from table to table observing cultural artifacts, flipping through books written in different languages, interacting with table hosts and asking the kids to point out similarities and differences, and the opportunity to be a true inquirer at any age level or interest.

Activities included learning to write their names in Greek, making Brazilian Carnival masks, language instruction in Hungarian and French, folding Japanese origami Samurai helmets, learning numbers in Arabic, carrying fruit baskets mimicking the Guatemalan marketplace and dozens more.

The intent was to create a festive, age appropriate environment where the students could feel the energy and pride of their fellow classmates sharing their countries of origin and where they feel safe and encouraged to ask questions as open-minded learners.

The next portion of the event featured Massachusetts-based Tanglewood Marionettes performing the UNIMA Award winning production of The Dragon King, set in Ancient China. The audience was mesmerized by the realistic movements of the characters and sea creatures all controlled by two behind-the-scenes puppeteers. The scenery art was based upon traditional Chinese painting featuring fluid brushstrokes and each puppet and prop was designed and carefully constructed by hand. Families watched the hour-long performance as Grandmother, Lao Loa  tells her grandson, Xiao Long, the story the Dragon King, ruler of all things water.

A top perk of a diverse cultural school community has to be the cuisine. As per tradition, each year’s cultural event ends with a huge potluck feast featuring food samplings of appetizers, main courses, and desserts from all over the world. Flavors from Turkey, Germany, Philippines, India, and Peru were just a few of the many offerings of traditional country favorites.

With the option to take small samples of each dish, children and adults who may be gastronomically cautious could take a small bite to see what great flavors may be outside their daily meal routines.

During the lunch, the school’s green team “Deep Roots” hosted a river rock painting table where children painted various country flags on smooth rocks to be placed in the school’s future Global Garden. The new school building features gardening plots to be used as teaching areas for kids to understand the concept of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

The Global Garden is intended to be a space where families from all different backgrounds and cultures unite to sow seeds and break bread together. Deep Roots hopes that plants, herbs and flowers from all over the world will be represented in this global garden decorated by the colorfully painted river rocks.

What many town residents may not realize is that Charter Oak International Academy has gone through rigorous training, review and continuing education in order to become authorized as an International Baccalaureate School – all while simultaneously following the high West Hartford Public Schools’ academic standards.

The original intent of the International Baccalaureate school bodies, which originated in Switzerland, was to create a learning system that would smoothly transfer a child’s educational progress between other IB schools regardless of what country of residence and to create a learning environment that is authentic and more accessible to student learning. But to the kids of Charter Oak it’s a much simpler concept and the students just refer to it as “IB” learning. You may even hear from the older students, the simplified “Smith is STEM and we are IB” (in reference to the neighboring fellow magnet school). Simply put, the goal is to be immersed in an environment of learning beyond pure academics in order to become global citizens of the world.  What better way to accomplish that than a school wide cultural celebration with hands on activities, direct contact with natives of various countries and objects authentic to their cultures.

In a jam-packed morning of events, the Charter Oak school family experienced a true celebration of all the positive and wonderful things that come from embracing cultures outside one’s own. The volunteers, faculty and staff further solidified the International Baccalaureate tradition in hopes that these young residents of West Hartford will become truly successful and globally minded citizens of the world.

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Students wore costumes representing their cultural background to the Charter Oak International Acadedmy Cultural Day Celebration Photo credit: Gregory Scranton

Tanglewood Marionettes perform the Dragon KIng. Photo credit: Gregory Scranton

Students check out the African American table. Photo credit: Gregory Scranton

Charter Oak International Academy Principal Juan Melian with some students. Photo credit: Gregory Scranton

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