Wheaton school goes around the world in a day
In a second-grade classroom at Madison Elementary in Wheaton, a mom wearing traditional Norwegian attire is introducing students to her homeland, with a presentation about the country's royal family, music and nature.
On the other side of the school, students are making rainsticks and beaded bracelets while eating fufu, an African dish, and learning about efforts to curb the poaching of savanna animals.
The game mancala is being played in one room and volcano experiments are happening in the next. Karate and yoga demonstrations are ongoing in the gym as first-graders line up to take part in a dragon parade in the hallway.
In "Italy," kids are painting a picture taped under a table to mimic Michelangelo. In "France," a man in a beret is teaching the class some simple French words.
Students are extremely engaged in the activities and the rooms are full of smiles and laughter. But the school's annual Multicultural Day isn't just about having fun.
"It truly impacts student learning," Principal Tim Callahan said. "When our kids, sometimes our neediest learners, our most at-risk learners, are brought up in a school that honors their cultures, it makes a big difference. The children's faces light up when they see the rest of the school wants to learn about them."
Callahan said the demographics at Madison are unusual, with 17 different languages spoken.
"It's one of the things that makes this such a wonderful place for all of us," he said. "We have families move into this area from all over the world. It's so nice for us as a school not only to be welcoming of other cultures, but to learn from other cultures and invite the parents to not just learn about our culture, but to teach us about theirs as well."
Kristin Olson, multicultural day co-chairwoman and co-president of the Madison PTA, which organizes the event, said about 100 parent volunteers help by decorating the classrooms and leading crafts and other activities.
"It's a great day and we're so lucky we have the parents to support us, the school supports us, the teachers. It's really a collaborative effort," she said. "The kids look forward to this day. It's one of the favorites of the school year."
Each grade level celebrates a different area of the world. Kindergartners learn about Mexico. First-graders visit Asia. Second-graders focus on Europe. Third-graders are brought to the Pacific Rim. Fourth-graders are immersed in South America. And fifth-graders are taught about Africa.
By the time the children are ready to move on to middle school, they will have "traveled around the world," Olson said.
Aside from opening their eyes to new cultures, Callahan said the activities on Multicultural Day "really trigger something in the kids."
"Months later, they're reading about these topics that they got a little spark from today, they're learning about it," he said.
A few years ago, for example, one of the fifth-grade classes started an initiative to help endangered species after learning about them during their "visit" to Africa.
"The kids get to experience the best parts of all these cultures," Callahan said. "They get to try the foods, they get to try traditional dances, they get to wear traditional garments. It's an awesome learning experience that is really unique and special."