Port Washington School District celebrates diversity and community
In mid-May, the English as a New Language (ENL) Department of the Port Washington School District hosted the first ENL Family Cultural Night. Hundreds of parents joined their kids, ENL teachers, staff, district administrators and Board of Education members to celebrate Port Washington’s diverse community.
ENL Family Cultural Night was organized and led by ENL Department Director Ms. Priscilla Zárate. The event was themed ‘Appreciating Our Cultural Diversity’ to celebrate the different cultures represented in the community. When presenting the event, Ms. Zárate had several points the cultural night was meant to address; recognition, respect, value, encouragement, empowerment and celebration.
“I shared what cultural diversity means for the Port Washington School District. One is recognition of the diversity of students’ cultures in our district. Two is respect for the differences that exist in our school district,” said Ms. Zárate. “Three is valuing what other cultures have to offer. Four is encouraging the contributions of diverse groups of students, whether in the classroom or outside of the classroom. Five is empowering our students to strengthen themselves and others. And six is celebrating rather than just tolerating differences in order to bring about unity through diversity.”
Durring ENL Family Cultural Night, ELL (English Language Learners) families were recognized and included in the school community through cultural food, entertainment, performances and education displays.
Special guest Adriana Devers performed for the cultural night. Devers has done work with the Westbury Art Council and is an author, educator, speaker and cultural events coordinator born and raised in the Dominican Republic.
“[Devers] did a fun and interactive presentation of her book using physical response. So she got the parents to make different sounds and the students to make the rhythm of the sounds from the book,” explained Ms. Zárate.
Devers led the parents in dance from the Schreiber High School auditorium into the cafeteria, where she had copies of her books to give out to the students. Children from kindergarten to high school attended the event and Devers had books prepared for younger students and older students.
“The students were able to take one of her books home autographed by her,” said Ms. Zárate. “It supports our students’ love for reading and these are books that are reflective of where students come from and the languages that they speak and their cultural experiences.”
For the continued celebration in the cafeteria, ENL teachers facilitated multicultural table activities for the students.
“This year we looked at South Korea, Greece, El Salvador, Guatemala, Japan, China, and Ecuador. The multicultural table activities included specific activities that were representative of that country,” said Ms. Zárate. “And next year, we will be rotating the activities to include other cultures. We’re making sure that we’re validating all of our students’ culture.”
In Ms. Zárate’s messages to parents, she requested them to send their children in their traditional clothing customs from their country.
“We had a lot of students that came dressed in kimonos and other cultural outfits from El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador,” said Ms. Zárate. “So it was a really nice event to see that our families felt welcomed and validated within the school community.”
With the help of local restaurants, donors and parents the event offered multicultural foods and desserts.
“We had Crazy Cakes, Dunkin’ Donuts, Gino’s Pizzeria, Ikedo Ramen, Margaritas Cafe, Port Washington Deli, and Yummy Gyro donate food to us,” said Ms. Zárate. “A parent volunteer and her daughter, who is a sophomore at Schreiber, helped get us funding to get additional food and water for the event.”
Parents and students were able to participate in raffles to win organization-donated prizes like toys, tickets to Adventure Land and Sky Zone certificates. In addition to the fun activities, food and prizes, Ms. Zárate was able to bring in several community-based organizations that can provide families with necessary resources.
“We have many students that are in need of medical support, outside legal counseling, and other resources that we may not necessarily have here,” said Ms. Zárate. “We had Empire Justice, which has done a lot of work on language access, not only at the government level but also at the school district level, to ensure that our families are provided with language access. We had CARECEN, an organization that provides a lot of guidance to our families with legal matters. They help direct them in the right direction when it comes to citizenship, immigration issues, et cetera,” she added.
In addition, the Port Washington Public Library, the Parent Resource Center and the New York State Cancer Hotline had set up tables with additional resources for families.
During the event, Ms. Zárate recognized students who demonstrated strong civic and community engagement characteristics. Students from the Language Buddies Program, who used their bilingual skills to support and mentor English language learners at the elementary level, were also recognized for their efforts.
In a press release from the Port Washington School District, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael J. Hynes shared his thoughts on the event, stating, “The ENL Family Cultural Night is a wonderful demonstration of our community’s commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and learning from one another. The event provides an opportunity for our students and families to celebrate the different cultures and traditions that make our community so special.”
“So we had a great turnout of the community. When we talk about the word inclusivity, we’re talking about everybody coming together and accepting everybody. And everybody came through in one way or another for our English language learner students and families,” said Ms. Zárate.
According to the Port Washington School District press release, “The Port Washington School District expresses its gratitude to everyone who attended and participated in making the ENL Family Cultural Night a success. The event was an excellent representation of the community’s commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and community engagement.”
For more information about the Port Washington Union Free School District, please visit the district’s website at portnet.org and visit the Facebook/Instagram page @PortWashSchools