With Multicultural Day event, Unalaska’s elementary school celebrates student diversity and world cultures
Eagle’s View Elementary School held its second annual Multicultural Day this month, giving Unalaska students the opportunity to “travel” from India, Australia, and Mexico to Cuba, the Philippines, and beyond.
Each classroom represented a different country, and the kids used school-made passports to visit each destination for a lesson on its art, language, food, or history.
Teachers launched the event last year to help students to learn about different cultures, as well as celebrate the diversity of the local school system and Unalaska at large.
“We are really indeed a community with rich cultures, traditions, and we want to showcase that every time,” said first grade teacher Judith Withers, a member of the event’s organizing committee.
“The kids are coming from different diversities, different traditions,” she said. “We are hoping to bring and to keep the traditions of these kids in them. And hopefully bring it to the school community, and spread it to the whole community.”
In a classroom representing Holland, students were excited to make pinwheels. In Ancient Greece, they built architectural columns out of blocks and explored the history of the Olympic Games. And in the Philippines, they practiced Tagalog tongue twisters and tried out a traditional game called sipa.
“I am doing my own home country, the Philippines,” said Withers. “I am teaching some Tagalog words, because we know we have a lot of Filipinos up here on the island, so it’d be nice to be able to talk to them in our language, in the Tagalog language.”
“It’s introducing the kids to some of the traditions of the Philippines, which is really, really a fun thing to do,” she said. “Because they love it. They’re enjoying it.”
Once the kids had visited every country, they settled in at the auditorium for the next phase of Multicultural Day, alongside teachers, school staff, and families.
A full program of music and dance included a piano duet with Russian roots by Lynda Lybeck Robinson and Phong Tran, a performance by the Unangan Dancers telling the story of a hunter who makes a deal with a wily octopus, and a song called Barquito de Papel performed by elementary student Meredith Fernandez, representing Cuba.
The Philippines was also well-represented with dances performed by elementary, middle, and high school students. Substitute teacher Russel Laforteza helped the kids rehearse the three Filipino dances over about two months.
“As an ambassador and culture bearer of the Philippines, I feel like it’s very important for the kids, our generations, to embrace their culture and roots,” said Laforteza. “I feel like dancing — it is part of one’s identity. So for our Filipino students who do the traditional or festival folk dances, they are trying to explore and also embracing their identity.”
The elementary schoolers performed the Itik-Itik folk dance. “It’s a duck dance,” said Laforteza. “If the U.S. has a chicken dance, we in the Philippines, we have a duck dance.”
Meanwhile, he said the middle schoolers did a Kalipay ethnic dance, from the northern part of the Philippines, and the high schoolers performed a Bado-Badoc festival dance.
The last Multicultural Day performance came from Rhellie Enele, a seventh grader representing Samoa. She said she’s been dancing since she was a little kid.
“It’s called the Taualuga,” said Enele. “It’s a traditional dance that you would always do after an event, a big event that you have.”
“You’re supposed to practice a lot, or you could freestyle. Most of us just practice a lot, but today, I just freestyled, which is kind of nervously scary because I’ve never done that,” she said. “When I did it, I felt confidence in myself … I felt really happy.
“And to be honest, the thing that we have with Taualugas is a smile. The biggest thing that you can do in a dance, for us Samoans, is smiling. It doesn’t matter if you mess it up — as long as you smile, everybody’s going to love it, right?”
Enele said she also loved seeing the other performances at Multicultural Day.
“All the dances and activities that they do are so unique. They’re so different from each other,” she said. “It’s a really nice day.”
Organizers said this year’s celebration was bigger than last year’s event. And in the future, they think it’ll expand even further.
“We are hoping to do this again and again in the coming years, and hopefully the community will be more involved,” said Withers. “Because that is what makes us strong people, right? We come together. We keep what we have in our core. And then we promote collaborations, we bring in new ideas to the community. And that’s what makes us flourish as a community.”
Kindergarten teacher Jolie Norman agreed. She’s a member of the Multicultural Day organizing committee with Withers and teachers Joni Scott, Darlene Jeppesen, and Riley Spetz.
“It’s really important because our community is very diverse, and everybody has a lot of pride in their culture,” said Norman. “This would not happen without the hard work of all the teachers that are here. They really care about their kids, they care about the community, and they want everybody to have a chance to shine.”
“I think it’s just going to continue growing from here,” she said.