Oak Lawn students recently held a full day celebration of all of the cultures in the Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School community at the school, 5345 W. 99th Street in Oak Lawn. (Supplied photos)

Oak Lawn students recently held a full day celebration of all of the cultures in the Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School community at the school, 5345 W. 99th Street in Oak Lawn. (Supplied photos)

OLHMS festival celebrates student cultures

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By Kelly White

Oak Lawn students recently held a full day celebration of all of the cultures in the Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School community.

Cleverly called International Fest or iFest, the day acknowledged 19 different cultures of students at the school at 5345 W. 99th Street in Oak Lawn. Cultures featured included Poland, Palestine, Greece, Ireland. Germany, Russia, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Italy, Lebanon, Jordan and Mexico.

“My favorite part about International Fest as a presenter is my being able to share all about my heritage and culture to my classmates and seeing them really enjoy learning about where we all come from,” Liam Minogue, 13, of Oak Lawn, said.

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Oak Lawn students recently held a full day celebration of all of the cultures in the Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School community at the school, 5345 W. 99th Street in Oak Lawn.

The 7th annual International Fest was held on Friday, March 24, and invited all students in grade levels 6th through 8th to participate.

The day began with an opening Flag Ceremony in which students paraded flags through the building representing the diverse ethnic backgrounds of students in the school. During the school day, students prepared presentations for their peers to learn about their cultures, planed interactive activities such as food demonstrations, learned a different language, or played traditional games.

Students also presented cultural dances and presented traditional clothing in a fashion show and had the opportunity to watch films, create crafts, watch staff-created videos and play games from around the world.

“It truly is a day during which we embrace the diversity of our community in a variety of ways and celebrate each other,” Nuhie Faheem, Spanish teacher said.

The event was organized by Faheem. The idea sparked from a cultural celebration for her in 2016.

“After the election in late 2016, I began to overhear comments in the media, in public, and in our school hallways that were unkind and unaccepting of certain ethnicities,” Faheem said. “I didn’t want this to become a norm or to be sentiments that were seen as acceptable. Something needed to be done. As the only person of color on our teaching faculty at the time, I felt that it was incumbent on me to create a safe space in which to share the narratives of people of diverse backgrounds.

“I knew that as a school community we needed to encourage empathy and educate one another on our diverse stories to strengthen our connection as a community. Our narratives needed a space in which to be legitimized, and so, the idea of International Fest was born.”

Faheem then approached the school’s administration at the time and offered to work on creating a school-wide student centric culture and offered to develop professional development for staff as well to address cultural competency and implicit bias. Since then, the school has seen the event grow and improve every year.

It is now one of the most anticipated events of the year and students love sharing their cultures and learning about each other, according to school officials.

“In the past nine years that I’ve been at our school, I’ve always felt as though it was a diverse blend of students, but in the past few years we’ve seen an increase in diversity in our staff as well which has been exciting,” Faheem said. “As a person of color from a low income, recent immigrant background myself, it has been advantageous for me when it comes to building connections with my students, because I’ve experienced life through a similar lens as many of our students. It’s a benefit to have staff that understand their students racial, ethnic, religious, age group or family cultures because it helps create safe spaces for our students to learn, grow, and thrive.”

Students who made a presentation at International Fest spent 10 weeks preparing. For each of the countries represented, students prepared a 40-minute presentation that covered information about the country’s history, languages, religion, location, clothing, traditional foods, holidays, traditions, current events and more. Student participants were able to engage in learning by playing games such as ‘Lotería’ in the Mexico classroom, learning how to make empanadas in the Dominican Republic classroom or learning how to speak Gaelic in the Ireland classroom.

The school also invited groups from around the Oak Lawn Hometown community to participate, including a local tae kwon do studio and Oak Lawn Community High School.

“They gained confidence in celebrating their cultures and enjoy teaching others about what makes them so special,” Faheem said. “The students who performed choreographed routines that are a combination of modern and traditional, were able to connect with their roots through music, dance, and the arts which is beautiful when it all comes together. The interconnectedness we feel as a community on this day is beneficial to everyone and helps us all bring our school’s mission and vision to life.”

And, students agreed.

“The thing I most enjoyed about International Fest was being able to present a fun yet informational presentation to everyone because I quite enjoyed helping put together the presentation and being able to share my knowledge about France with everyone,” Caydence Schmittel, 13, of Oak Lawn, said.

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Oak Lawn students recently held a full day celebration of all of the cultures in the Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School community at the school, 5345 W. 99th Street in Oak Lawn.

 

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