When you have 51 different birth countries and 35 different native languages represented across four different schools, a joint “Celebration of Nations” event is nothing short of eclectic. For the first time since 2019, the tradition spanning Hopewell Junior School, Hopewell ECS, Union Elementary and for the first time Woodland Elementary, returned to its original in-person format this year.
“In the beginning, it felt like awareness was the main goal,” said Hopewell Junior counselor Andria Lapthorn, who has served as the ringleader for the multi-school event since its inception. “But now, it’s more of a celebration for the people in our buildings. It’s less about educating and more about just celebrating our families and where they come from.”
From the entryway to the gymnasium, the scene at Hopewell Junior School the evening of Feb. 15 was packed with colorful student art projects from all four schools, cultural artifacts, a wide range of traditional native clothing, cuisine and musical genres, and above all else, noted Lapthorn, “smiles all around.” “Everyone was just so thankful to be there,” Lapthorn said.
“I do it for my kids. They are so proud of their heritage and it’s a great opportunity to share it,” said parent Sylvia Pacheco McGuire, who represented her home country of Costa Rica at one of the 35 tables filling the school gymnasium. “With a last name like McGuire, people don’t always know their family background,” said McGuire, noting her children’s excitement to wear traditional Costa Rican clothing for the event.
Aliya Khan showed up for her niece, who attends Hopewell Junior, to help share more about Pakistan traditions. While she brought the food, her niece put her artistic skills to use and demonstrated Henna on some of her booth visitors.
Hopewell Junior student Jana Shadid hosted a table with a few other students, all wearing traditional Palestinian wear. “I do it because so many people have never traveled outside of the United States and don’t necessarily understand the traditions behind different cultures,” she said.
In addition to the culture boxes that every Hopewell ECS second-grader completed in preparation for the event, ESL teacher Lisa Cooper led about 120 students in a live concert accompanied by local musicians. Students shared three different songs they’d learned at optional after-school rehearsals, sharing a clear message of unity and acceptance among differences.
One song they performed included a barrage of different ways to say hello, while another song’s chorus repeated these words: “In this big, big world, there is only one you. I like all your colors, of your eyes, of your hair, of your skin. So many colors, so many shapes, we all look different, but our hearts are all the same.”
The musical presentation was followed by several other live performances, including dancing, singing and even a poetry reading. Additionally, all 51 birth countries were represented through the playlist of music and the slideshow of flags playing in the background.
Hopewell seventh-grader Keira Hobe quickly recognized the benefit of attending the event. “I don’t always know where a lot of my friends at school are from,” Hobe said. “It’s important because your culture tells you a lot about a person.”
“The event allows staff and students to see another side of their students or classmates,” Lapthorn added. “Now, I see you for more than the student I see in the hallway every day at school. It opens up the door to more conversation and learning and understanding of one another.”