As more than 150 students, family members, teachers and staff gathered at Joe Michell School, nine-year-old Connie Aydelott was feeling nervous.
“Connie has been involved with the Livermore American Indian Center for three years,” explained mom Aileen Aydelott. “She began practicing powwow dancing, specifically fancy dance, and has participated in the center’s events. But this time, Connie was very nervous at first because she would be dancing in front of her school and classmates. I think she didn’t want to be ridiculed or embarrassed. And afterward? She was very proud of herself, and received a lot of positive feedback. She gained self-esteem and pride in her culture, Pyramid Lake Paiute.”
On May 16, Livermore’s Joe Michell School hosted its first Multicultural Evening, an event designed to support its K-8 students in understanding and appreciating both their own and classmates’ cultures.
“If we are going to create a positive school climate where all students feel safe to learn, we must recognize that there are many differences between people,” said Principal Dr. Laura Lembo. “Understanding those differences will foster a culture of respect.”
The Multicultural Evening featured the food, music, dance, clothing and art of more than a dozen countries, including Germany, India, Scotland, Mexico, Turkey, Kenya, Albania, Italy, Colombia, Spain and the U.S.
“When students can see themselves reflected in their school they will feel connected and be more engaged. Learning will be more meaningful to them,” said Lembo. “As an International Baccalaureate Candidate School, one of our goals is to foster intercultural understanding and develop students who are internationally minded.”
Michell is currently completing the second year of its three-year accreditation process to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme school. The program’s mission is to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and compassionate life-long learners.
“The Multicultural Evening was inspired by parents who were looking to create an event that would bring our school community together,” said Michell’s IB Coordinator Amie Hauselt. “This desire says to us that we are building a sense of international-mindedness at the school, not only with the students and staff, but with our larger school community.”
The event featured performances and demonstrations by the Cheza Nami organization, Ushanjali School of Dance, the American Indian Education Center and Turtle Nation Singers, Ballet Folklorico, the Junction Avenue K-8 School Mariachi Club band, and Joe Michell square dancers and school choir. Additionally Michell’s 6-8 grade students, who had been studying international games in PE, set up an outdoor bocce court and invited participants to learn the game.
“This kind of event allows us to do our best work: sharing knowledge through work that is student created, creating excitement about learning, bringing the community together to experience something positive, and allowing for opportunities for students to act on their learning through service to the school and the community,” said Hauselt. “We are so thrilled by the level of attendance. It far exceeded our expectations.”
Third-grade teacher Lynda Brekke attended, looking forward to seeing one of her students perform.
“It was so, so sweet to see Connie performing a Native American dance in full regalia. Her pride lit up the room!” Brekke said. “Seeing Connie dance made me think how fortunate she is to learn about her ancestry, culture and beliefs. What if every child had that opportunity? Perhaps attending an IB school will make that an opportunity for every student.”
Added Lembo, “I hope that everyone who participated recognized the richness of our school community and how education can bring cultures together to create a more peaceful world.”