By Joel Hall
On Thursday night, Harper Elementary on Valley Hill Road in Riverdale, celebrated its diversity by hosting Christmas traditions of countries throughout the world.
All grade levels, kindergarten through fifth, participated in the celebration. Over 400 parents crowded into the school auditorium to watch students sing, read stories, perform dances, and share the history of countries they are studying as a part of their curriculum.
In addition to the performances, each grade level displayed dioramas around the school auditorium, featuring traditional foods, and replicas of buildings typically seen in those countries. Altogether, the customs of Australia, Russia, Lebanon, Sweden, China, Germany, Ethiopia, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, and the United States were displayed.
Several of the students used technology and creativity to enhance their displays.
The fifth-grade class created a Kwanzaa music video using Apple's iMovie program. Second-graders crafted Chinese lanterns out of paper and used them in a dance performance. Celebrating Swedish traditions, the first-grade class dressed one of their own as St. Lucia and informed the audience's of the saint's roll in Swedish Christmas traditions.
Nicole Uqdah, president of the Harper Parent Teacher Association, and home-school liaison, said students speak a variety of languages, including several dialects of Spanish, English, and a host of Asian and African languages.
The celebration, which has taken place for several years, is a way to explore and celebrate those differences, Uqdah said.
"We just wanted to explore different customs, for different cultures around this time of year," said Uqdah. "We want to teach students about the world as much as possible. When you know about another country, you respect more ... you don't feel inadequate in certain situations, because you are aware of the customs."
Lynda Daniel, Harper's principal, said the program is integrated into what the students were already studying in their classes.
"We try to work it into the curriculum so it is not something they are studying in isolation," said Daniel. "Even though its is around the world, it still relates to the curriculum ... I think that is a unique feature."
Qiana Denis, a parent of a second-grader at Harper, seemed to agree.
"I loved it," said Denis, who was a first-time attendee. "It's necessary to bring the children together. It gives them extra things to learn about different cultures."