West Hempstead students honor cultures in schoolwide festival


Students, parents, faculty and staff of St. Thomas the Apostle School, in West Hempstead, spent a day celebrating different cultures through food, music, and arts and crafts on May 10.

“We have a lot of great events throughout the year, but there’s really been an excitement building up for this one,” Principal Valerie Gigante said of the school’s International Day — A Celebration of Diversity. “There’s this kind of buzz that’s going on, and everybody’s been looking forward to it.”

The school expanded the event by allowing students to select cultures they wanted to explore, and 36 countries, from South America to the Caribbean to Europe, were represented. Students compiled information on each country, and then shared what they learned through informative posters, musical performances and other activities.

“You learn by doing. That’s one of the most influential ways to learn anything,” said Melissa Murphy, a Spanish teacher at the school who helped coordinate the event. “They’re internalizing what they’re learning by taking ownership of it, and I believe that students will receive this . . . better from a peer.”

Gigante said that students originally had the day off, but it was added back to the school calendar after all of the snow days were used. Instead of having another normal school day, she said, they wanted to create a fun and meaningful activity.

“I always look at our school and our students each day and say that we’re so fortunate to have all this rich culture in our building,” Gigante said. “We said, ‘Let’s do something to honor that.’ Ms. Murphy really embraced that.”

Sixth-grader Logan Dailey said she was excited to take part in African dance, and that she woke up earlier for school to practice for the performance.

“At first I wasn’t really sure what was going on, because last year we were only allowed to do Spanish countries,” she said, “so I was really excited this year that we got to do more countries.”

“I was looking forward to exploring other countries, too,” said sixth-grader Jaslene Joseph, who helped create posters for the classrooms. “This year we learned about a lot of other countries, and we had a lot of fun doing that.”

The beauty of celebrating diversity, Gigante said, is that students were able to build acceptance and understanding among themselves.

“It’s really reflective of the world that we live in today,” she said. “To be able to learn about other cultures is a gift, and that’s an experience that we were really looking forward to.”

Murphy said she hoped students would carry the experience with them for years to come. “This event gives them an opportunity to teach each other something new and learn something new from each other,” Murphy said. “I hope that they all take this to heart.”

“One of the goals in our building every day is to build community,” Gigante added. “And being a Catholic school, having that, based on the values of loving each other, and to love yourself, is the perfect opportunity to put those two things together.”