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Midvale Journal

East Midvale students explore Asian culture during ‘Living Traditions’

Mar 08, 2023 04:26PM ● By Julie Slama

At East Midvale Elementary’s Living Traditions night, families filled out passports as they learned about Japan and other Asian countries. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

East Midvale fourth-grader Brooklyn Rioux likes learning about other countries.

That’s why she brought her dad, Matt, to East Midvale’s eighth Living Traditions event that showcased Thailand, Afghanistan, Maldives, Kuwait, Nepal and Japan in Asia.  

“I liked learning about all the countries,” she said. “I just learned about Nepal. With their religion, they create beautiful sand art for good thoughts and once it’s complete, it’s destroyed, and it’s also illegal to intentionally kill a cow there.”

Matt Rioux said the family has attended for seven years, starting with her older sibling who was at the school.

“It’s fun to learn about the different nationalities and sample their food,” he said.

This year, there was a “taste of Asia” with fried rice, but also, with traditional Afghanistan food which was provided by some parents.  

“That whole table was just filled with sweets and savories and their native foods, and I was just so grateful for their generosity and their presence and their willingness to share with our families,” said East Midvale school community facilitator Shelley McCall, who oversees the event.

Many of the 550 students, former students, parents and community members in attendance enjoyed the food while listening to the 17 Kenshin Taiko drummers during the evening.

“We do this because we value diversity,” Principal Matt Nelson said. “Our families have all kinds of backgrounds to come together to learn about each other and the world.”

At the event, families are given a “passport” asking about flag colors, languages, art, geography, animal life and more. As they tour the school, they find the answers in each grade level’s display.

Parents also appreciate students’ art projects relating to the different countries that they did under Melonie Stauffer, the school’s Beverley Taylor Sorenson art specialist. In addition, families could make red lanterns, tying in with the Lunar New Year festivities happening.

Angi DuBreuil came with her first-grader Madison and third-grader Connor.

While Madison liked the Afghani “spicy ice cream” samples, Connor learned about the mosaic tiles made in Kuwait.

“We come every year and like the food and performances, but it’s also a chance to get to learn more about their friends’ backgrounds and see the community together at the school,” she said.

Kindergarten teacher Carrie Dumas said the event has been a fun tradition.

“It’s one of the more popular community engagement nights that we have. It’s a big hit with the kids and their parents. It’s awesome because we have such a diverse school culture here and it’s really when students get to see something that represents their home country or that country of their parents.”

The tradition began in 2016 with students learning about The Americas of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela. Since then, they’ve rotated, studying several countries from different continents.

“We rotate it on a six-year rotation, so we are highlighting Asia again, but with countries that are different this year than before,” McCall said. “A lot of the grades picked countries where students are from. That is what is so cool about our community—we have families from around the world.”

Sometimes during the week, parents come in to share with the classes about their homelands.

“One family from Afghanistan gave a presentation to our first-grade students with a PowerPoint of pictures from the country. They talked some about the country’s culture, the geography, the food. It was just a much deeper level of engagement and learning about that particular country,” she said.

At East Midvale, the approximately 600 students speak more than 15 languages. Many students who live within the school’s boundaries are refugees and have shared their culture with others, she said.

“This is really a celebration of the diversity within our walls,” McCall said. “It started as my first big event as a community school facilitator, and it really was about looking at the strength we have in all our schools and celebrating everyone that was here. The festival is really focused on family and gathering—and that’s what we showcase. Everyone’s welcome in our school; we want everyone to come together and share who they are and learn about other cultures.”