International festival teaches students to respect diversity, appreciate other cultures

By Jonathan E. Coleman
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The estimated 600 students, families and guests who walked into Harrisburg Elementary School Saturday had the opportunity to travel the world and learn about many of its diverse cultures without ever leaving the school.

For the day, portions of the school were transformed into a hands-on learning center for the Carolina International School’s second annual International Festival.

Leading up to the event, students from the charter school did research and created information storyboards with information about countries and cultures from across the globe.

“The idea is to get them exposed to the multiple cultures we have in Harrisburg,” said Rosemary Giraldo, a Spanish teacher at the school whose students each picked an influential Hispanic or a Hispanic country to profile for the event. “The students worked very hard and are very involved in international events.”

And exposing them to that diversity of cultures is an important part of their education at CIS.

“I think every single child needs a global education so that they know where they fit in,” said Lorraine Belachew, a 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher at the school and the festival’s organizer. “A child does not have to have the burden of ‘Where do I fit in and why?’ If they know it is OK to be who they are, they will be more comfortable.”

To help them learn who they are, CIS, which places a high emphasis on global learning, aims to teach them about other cultures.

“Globally, we have the same issues,” Belachew said, adding that children and adults at the festival were enlightened to many of those similarities at the festival.

Information booths representing 19 different countries were set up with knowledgeable teachers and staff on hand to answer questions. 

Students even received a “passport” upon entering the festival and were encouraged to visit the different booths and collect stickers to mark their travels to the different countries.

Live entertainment included martial arts and dance demonstrations as well as food tastings and henna tattoos. 

While the children are laughing and having a good time, they’re also learning, not only about other cultures, but also about the importance of respecting those cultures and the similarities and differences between them, said Tony Dula, a guest speaker at the event who works with English as a Second Language students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

“We live in an international and global society,” he told the group. “The more we get involved, the more we celebrate those differences. Being international and being who I am is more important than being anything someone tells me to be.”

• Contact Jonathan E. Coleman at [email protected] or 704-789-9105.

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