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Around the World in 8 Months: How One School Celebrated Cultures

St. Philip students point to different flags on the wall while completing a worksheet.
St. Philip students complete their final assignment for the Celebration of Cultures.

Colorful flags dotted each wall of the St. Philip school gym as the excited chatter of the students began to fill the echoing space. Each student had a clipboard in hand as they ran around the gym making observations about the different flags, what they represent, and what was learned about that country throughout this school year. This was the event that the students have been preparing for all school year: the cultural celebration.

At the end of the 2023 school year, Mrs. Schau was awarded a dream grant from the Chicagoland Lutheran Educational Foundation. Her dream was to involve the entire student body in a celebration of world cultures through food, music, experiences, and study. There was to be a focus on eight cultures: Puerto Rican, German, Mexican, Swedish, African, Chinese, Ukrainian, and Greek. Special experiences were planned all over Chicago to visit museums such as the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, the Swedish American Museum, the DuSable Black American History Museum, and the Ukrainian Museum. During these trips, St. Philip students experienced beautiful artwork like traditional Puerto Rican clothing and intricate Ukrainian Fabergé eggs. Artwork wasn't the only aspect of these trips that was awe-inspiring, but also historical documentation and photography detailing the experiences of both Black Americans and Swedish Americans were studied. During the month of February, Chinese New Year and other aspects of Chinese culture and customs were studied and culminated in an amazing experience in May, where St. Philip students viewed a Chinese Acrobat performance.

St. Philip students pose in front of a display at the DuSable Black American History Museum
St. Philip students pose in front of a display at the DuSable Black American History Museum.

History and art are very important to defining and differentiating cultures, but one of the more important and unique aspects of a culture (and the most tasty!) is the food. Each month, where the students did not travel around the city of Chicago, they were served a special meal from that month's culture of study. The children enjoyed tacos and horchata originating in Mexico, Spaetzle and Schnitzel hailing from Germany, and lamb meatballs and Spanakopita referencing Greece.

A 2nd Grader enjoys a yummy authentic Mexican lunch.
A 2nd Grader enjoys a yummy authentic Mexican lunch.

As the students buzzed around the school gym, the sound of Mrs. Tennis beginning the showcase caused all the students to flock quickly to their seats. Sneaking smiles and waves to the crowd of parents, grandparents, and siblings in the bleachers. The event would begin with a traditional Ukrainian dance performed by the kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders. The children twirled on the stage and counted their steps as they moved in unison to the beat of the music. When they finished, the crowd erupted in applause, and they quickly hurried off the stage to allow the next set of performers to begin.

The St. Philip middle school students begin walking onto the stage. One by one, they began reading rich historical poetry that summarized the experiences of people in different cultural settings throughout the world. A 6th grade girl animatedly read a poem detailing the beauty of Greece, while an 8th grade boy read slowly and carefully a poem by Langston Hughes detailing the trials and tribulations black Americans face every day. As each student performed their poem, the emotion of the words and of the student's dictation prompted meaningful applause.

A 5th Grade girl reads Greek inspired poetry.
A 5th Grade girl reads Greek inspired poetry.

To wrap up the performances, the 3rd and 4th graders performed an Israeli folk song on the recorder. Each remembers the skills they have been learning in music class: sit up straight, read the music, and listen to the conductor. The notes of the recorder could be heard around the echoing gym as the students focused. Sharp, sweet notes filled the room, making the performance perfect.

The cultural celebration then concluded with a slideshow of all the diverse adventures the St. Philip students were fortunate to experience this school year. If it weren't for Mrs. Schau's creative idea and the financial support from the Chicagoland Lutheran Education Foundation, none of this would be possible. Thank you to all who supported our yearlong celebration of cultures and thank you to the students for being so engaged and so willing to learn about people from all over the world.

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