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Midvale Journal

East Midvale students connect with global culture at Living Traditions night

Jun 04, 2024 11:54AM ● By Julie Slama

At East Midvale Elementary’s Living Traditions night, Yvonne Nsabimana Baraketse and the Utah County-based nonprofit Ngoma Y’Africa Cultural Center performed for students and their families. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

In the days before East Midvale Elementary’s annual Living Traditions night, students were talking about the languages, animals, houses, food, geography and other facts they learned about the countries they were presenting during the festivities.

This year, students learned about Africa—Chad, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe—with each grade level presenting artwork and posters about their country. Annually, the students learn about a different part of the world, rotating discovering about the continents during their elementary years.

Lexie Hoffman was helping her two children, kindergartner Zayden and second-grader Deegan, fill out their paper passports that asked questions, such as “What desert is in Chad?” and “What are the colors in the Kenyan flag?” 

Deegan learned there is a “really big waterfall called Victoria Falls. It has the most water in the world.”

Zayden liked learning about the musical instruments in Chad. 

Their mother appreciated the exposure her sons were learning.

“They’re understanding the world is beyond their community,” she said. “East Midvale is a diverse school, and this kind of first-hand learning doesn’t come at every school.”

In the hallway, the teachers were helping families learn about the different countries.

“We wanted the students to learn about the culture and about their different arts,” said teacher Jessica Iverson. “We wanted them to understand their art may be a bit different from ours. So, we made little finger pianos, and we talked about pots they make because the Shona culture, which is part of Zimbabwe, makes a lot of pots, and we wanted to give them that understanding.”

Students also learned about the cultural dress that they wear for village celebrations, she said.

“It’s exciting for kids to learn about a bunch of different cultures because they see different cultures in our classroom. Today, for example, my kids who are native English speakers wanted to learn how to speak something in Spanish or Russian because we have kids in our class that speak those languages. Learning about culture is something different from normal school curriculum and the kids love it every year,” Iverson said.

One of the reasons the second-grade teachers picked Zimbabwe was because they learned 30% of the country is national parks and thought they could tie that into their recent study of Utah’s national parks. 

“We love making correlations. We didn’t have any of our families from there, but we had just learned about different ecosystems and Mount Kilimanjaro has a lot of ecosystems so they could make that connection,” she said.

Third-grade teacher Fiona Skenderi said it piques their curiosity.

“Every day when we were learning about Tanzania, they’d be like, ‘what are we learning today?’” she said. “They were eager to learn about other people and their cultures.”

Third-grade teacher Lisa Pereira said that students are not only excited to showcase what they’ve learned, but to learn about other grades’ countries. 

“It’s cool to get them interested in areas that aren’t their norm where they get to learn about languages and ecosystems and animals,” she said. “I love how it makes the hallways colorful and students get to walk by every day and point out all the cool things that they’ve done and learned.”

Third-grade teacher Lindsay Mazzella had checked off the last passport for the night. 

“It’s one of the most fun times of the year,” she said. “I think that when they get a chance to learn about cultures that are different from their own, they get a chance to understand the world in a different way than they know.”

Also part of that night was a performance by Yvonne Nsabimana Baraketse and the Utah County-based nonprofit Ngoma Y’Africa Cultural Center she founded to spread awareness of African culture.

“Yvonne has come three times to talk to students about her Rwandan culture and some of the different cultures in Africa,” said Shelley McCall, community school facilitator and Living Traditions organizer. “She taught the students some dances and told them stories—and every part of the story had a motion and she put it to music so that the kids got it. They loved that.” λ