Diversity teems at Hawthorne Elementary

By Johnny Jackson

Hawthorne Elementary School celebrated the start of its cultural diversity program last Friday in a celebration called, "Cultural Celebrations: In Step with the Times".

For a 10-minute ceremony that included a pledge to the Hawthorne Elementary family and a dance its members call the Hawthorne Slide, the presentation symbolized much more, according to Brenda Stanford.

Stanford is chairwoman for the Cultural Celebrations and coordinator of the Cultural Diversity Program at Hawthorne. She said the program is merely a step from tolerance to acceptance as in a family, starting with children.

"This is for the children," she said. "By understanding each student's uniqueness, comes the opportunity to weave a common fabric for a just and equitable world.

"Everybody recognizes the changes we've undergone," she said about Clayton County Schools, an increasingly diverse school district in metro-Atlanta. "It's all about being able to learn about the people we see everyday. We willingly accept the challenge to learn about the diverse cultural backgrounds of the students we serve so that we can guide them in understanding the changes in society, and assist them to take their place as leaders and workers in the 21st century."

Stanford said she hopes for a day when people are willing to accept each other and one day have that acceptance be automatic.

"What does it mean?" she asked. "What are you going to do to make sure we live and learn together in harmony? If we can get people to buy into it - this subject affects the entire school system."

Students at Hawthorne have bought into her ideal of acceptance and learning from diversity. Five talkative Hawthorne Hawks in particular expressed what they have already learned about different cultures in the few years they have been exposed to them.

"Today, I pledge to be the best family member that I can be," they all recited from the Hawthorne Family Pledge, written by Stanford.

"It's like your adopted family. Some people have a spiritual family; this is our cultural family," said Cheyenne McFarlane about her school.

"No matter what your culture is, we're all family," Kierra Ellis interjected, an otherwise shy 10-year-old student.

McFarlane, 10, would like to be the first black female president of the United States of America, she said. Western Europe impressed her, particularly British culture, she said.

"(But) I don't really have a favorite culture; I like them all."

Charnaye Grier, 10, wants to create video games for a living one day. She learned about Central American culture through the school's program.

She and her friends named a few Panamanian dishes they tasted. Bananas were a favorite in the group.

Nine-year-old Joshua Douglas prefers Greek culture.

"When you think of the Greeks, you always get a good laugh," Douglas said, referring to the complicated names given gods in Ancient Greece. "I like the culture because they invented different things, like the (Greek) alphabet."

He said he will eventually wants to become a lawyer, keeping his options open to one day replace Michael Vick as quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. Meanwhile, he will go the route to becoming an artist.

East European culture intrigues Brandon Casler, namely German culture. The 10 year old said German is a part of his heritage.

"The way they speak, I like how it sounds, and I like the food. The pork and the spaghetti are good too."

Casler may be a historian, a cartoonist, or a geologist, because all those things interest him.

Ellis is interested in starting her own business and playing in the WNBA. She is also charmed by Chinese culture.

"I like the food," she said, distinguishing between Americanized Chinese food and authentic Chinese foods. "And I like the language even though I can't understand it."

The students are incredibly quick-witted, diverging at times in conversation away from subject matter. They are intelligent about it, all the same.

Throughout the school year, the students will participate in enrichment activities provided by the cultural diversity program. Those activities include displays and celebrations of various cultures and heritage's around the world, essay contests and a cultural arts festival.

Stanford said parents will be invited to participate directly and indirectly in anything from speaking to classes and making presentations about their own cultures to helping hang national flags from the cafeteria ceiling, for instance - a show of support for the various nationalities at Hawthorne, she said.

"Hawthorne Elementary will continue to celebrate cultural heritages each month in keeping with our cultural awareness objective to have ongoing studies of our diverse population," she said.

The school is 58.3 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic, 10 percent white, 6.2 percent multi-racial, 1.1 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and .1 percent native American.