"These elementary students remember what they have learned long after the fair is over," reports Jill Anderson. "They really enjoy the small group interaction with the people who are sharing cultures with them, and they take away a new interest in the world."
The Jonathan Elementary School "International Fair" is an annual program that is held during the school day and lasts more than two hours. During this time, the students from Chaska, Minnesota, "visit" two countries by attending 20-25 minute sessions about the cultures, languages, and traditions of places like Australia, Germany, Kenya, and more. The fair takes place in classrooms and common team areas throughout the building.
"Parents and community members are not only invited to attend but also participate through volunteering to present a country, assisting on the day of the event as ambassadors, and also helping prepare materials and decorations in the weeks prior to the fair," says Anderson, a parent involvement coordinator.
In the most recent fair, families also volunteered to create paper flags from many countries. The flags were hung around the building to decorate the school for this event. Students and staff alike had fun identifying the flags, and each one was a source of pride for the family that made it. The flags were left on display until the end of the school year.
"Our school has a daily news program that each classroom hosts for a week on a rotating basis. We had special interviews with parents and grandparents who are from other countries along with world trivia questions," Anderson stated. "We also plan a special International Fair Week lunch menu, highlighting food from a different culture each day."
Some of the youngest volunteers are specially-selected students from Chaska Senior High School who willingly share their unique cultures with the elementary students. Anderson notes that the opportunity to speak about their cultures and spotlight their heritage is empowering for these high schoolers, an exciting unexpected outcome of the program. These older helpers take satisfaction in their role as "teachers" of the younger children.
Each student wears a "passport" made with adhesive labels on a string that identifies the two different countries they will "see" and the rooms in which they will meet. Anderson and her team have learned over time that a key to maintaining the interest of the elementary students is to make the country presentations age-appropriate with at least one hands-on activity. The practical projects range from teaching a craft, playing a game, writing names in Korean, singing songs, and teaching simple words in the language to displaying and wearing traditional clothing.
"We ask the elementary students to fill out a simple survey after the fair," Anderson told Education World. "Many of the students tell us that they want to learn more about a country they have encountered, want to visit it, or wish to speak the language."
Now in its fourth year, the format of the fair hasn't changed much over time, but Anderson does try to modify supporting elements. Food sampling from the highlighted countries is something she hopes to offer in the future.
About This Series
The ideas for articles in this Partners for Student Success series come from annual collections of Promising Partnership Practices by the National Network of Partnership Schools. Established by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, NNPS is dedicated to bringing together schools, districts, and states that are committed to developing and maintaining comprehensive programs of school-family-community partnerships.
"Based on more than a decade of research and the work of many educators, parents, students, and others, we know that it is possible for all elementary, middle, and high schools to develop and maintain strong programs of partnership," NNPS director Joyce L. Epstein told Education World.
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