Intercultural understanding is something that can’t wait in the eyes of Northwest Language Cultural Center Director Josette Hendrix.
That’s why the South Whidbey non-profit organization located in Langley has stepped up to shoulder the financial burden of hosting Global Culture Programs for students in the South Whidbey School District free of charge. The center has done so for the past two years.
“We were just so eager to follow through with this possibility to work with the schools,” Hendrix said. “My impression is that they [the school district] didn’t have the resources and that it was a matter of waiting to find both time and the bandwidth to pursue them.”
“We’re doing this is as an enrichment for the schools. South Whidbey schools don’t really have the budget. We’re stepping up as an organization to shoulder the financial burden and we need the help of our community.”
The center is hoping to lessen the burden by conducting a challenge grant that will match donations up to $10,000. The center has already received $8,175, making the last $1,825 within its grasp.
Students from Langley Middle School were the first to come to the center’s Langley property to immerse themselves in different cultures from around the world and experience cultural diversity. Around 80 kindergarten students at South Whidbey Elementary School recently joined in when they participated in three all-day sessions in September and October. The focus: Japanese culture. It was the first chunk of 11 total programs that will be held throughout the rest of the year. In February 2017, students will immerse themselves in Arab culture as they participate in four days of activities. In April and May, they’ll jump into African culture.
“What we’re hoping is that through their own experience, they will come to realize that there’s such diversity in the world…and our way of being,” Hendrix said. “And yet, we’re all human beings. We all care about, fundamentally, the same things. It’s really wonderful to celebrate and respect the differences. It enriches us and enriches our world.”
Kindergartners participated in the Japanese cultural program on Sept. 29, Oct. 6 and Oct. 13. There were six sessions per day from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students learned how to craft koi windsocks or sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Japanese. Other activities, such as preparing Japanese-styled foods, tied into their work with the elementary’s garden program, South Whidbey Elementary School Principal Jeff Cravy said.
But that wasn’t all students were excited about.
“There was a karate room!” said Rowan, 5, referring to aikido, a form of karate. Students practiced movements, forms and stretches associated with the martial arts activity.
During those three days, transforming the Northwest Language and Cultural Center into Japan was a primary focus, Hendrix said. Organizers would begin each day by forming students in a circle and pretending they were getting on a boat to Japan, which aided in immersing the students in the culture, Hendrix said. Students also wore kimonos, a traditional Japanese garment.
Hendrix and Maria Ellis, program coordinator, said parents told them that when their kids got home, they would ask, “When are we going to Japan again?
“It’s such a pleasure to work with kids always, but especially when they’re so open and entering into the discovery of life,” Hendrix said. “It was such a privilege.”
Cravy said programs that are similar nature to the Global Culture Program typically require some fundraising on the school district’s part. The scope of the program also would have been considered a cost-prohibited activity had it not been free, he said.
Cravy added that what the students learned during the three days, and what they will learn in the upcoming programs in 2017, is invaluable.
“In schools, we get caught up in our own world,” Cravy said. “We want our kids to be prepared in the big world and our global economy. Rather than being connected to a computer, this is a tool to see what’s out there.”
To donate, visit www.nwlacc.org/donate/ or send a check payable to NWLA to 5023 Langley Road, Langley, WA 98260.