Cultural Awareness Is Deer Park’s Pride and Joy


  In a district comprised of so many diverse people, cultural awareness throughout Deer Park is more vital and important than ever, enriching the school community and curriculum and creating an environment of cultural exploration, acceptance, appreciation and tolerance.

JFK promotes acceptance through the daily morning Words of Wisdom, readings over the PA system that focus on promoting kindness, empathy and acceptance of different cultures. The school’s third-grade social studies curriculum focuses on cultures around the world, enriched by classroom visits from family speakers who deliver firsthand information on their cultures.

“Cultural awareness is very important because people should be aware of how their community works and that people should respect other people’s beliefs,” said JFK fifth-grader Anthony Alvino. “The definition of culture is the ideas, customs and way of life of a group of people. I think the key to having everyone get along is understanding and accepting that we are all different in many ways.”

The ENL programs are a core source, with staff members working alongside classroom teachers and other faculty to ensure that cultural awareness and tolerance are themes that unite the schools’ diverse student populations. Earlier this year, ENL students performed on Family Fun Night as a celebration of love and unity.

“We played fun games with other people, like pin the tail on the donkey,” said JQA second-grader Jhoslannd Maldonado. “We got to dance and played hot potato. We came together with our families and won prizes.”

At the recent districtwide International Poetry Festival, ENL and world language students of all ages, some wearing traditional attire, recited original poems in their native languages and sang songs using sign language, cultural props and their individual countries’ flags. On World Language Exploration Day at both primary schools, seniors from the high school studying Spanish, Italian and French visited classrooms to teach language lessons to the younger students.

“Within our ENL classrooms, we began the year discussing our native countries and languages,” said ENL teacher Vanessa Pizzo. “We made passports and suitcases displayed in the hallways, recognizing the different countries and languages spoken.”

“We talked about how we celebrate holidays in our homes,” said JQA second-grader Bayron Bulux-Hernandez. “My dad wears a tuxedo and my mom wears a Guatemalan dress. I liked to talk about it with my friends and teachers.”

“On Chinese New Year we walked around the halls with a big dragon,” said JQA second-grader Chloe Ren. “I felt happy and proud.”

“On Cinco de Mayo, we celebrated in our ENL classroom through games and traditional songs, dance, food, and crafts,” said Pizzo. “The students enjoyed learning about this cultural holiday and it excited my two students that are from Mexico.”

“We celebrate different holidays together, like Cinco de Mayo,” said JQA second-grader Moises Moreno Elvir. “I taught everybody how to dance and we got to eat salsa and chips.”

According to ENL teacher Ashley Rosenberg, co-teaching partnerships, consisting of a classroom teacher and an ENL teacher, have been instrumental in facilitating cultural awareness.

“Creating safe, multicultural environments for our ENL students is one of our primary goals,” said Rosenberg, who co-teaches with first grade teacher Tiffany DeMarchis. “Within our classroom, students are encouraged to share their backgrounds and use their native languages in order to better understand content. We also strive to use a diverse body of multicultural texts, so that information is accessible to all students. I can speak for all the ENL co-teaching partnerships when I say that all our students have become more tolerant global citizens.”

Sue Steinman, a second-grade teacher who co-teaches alongside ENL teacher Danielle Finocchiaro, says goodbye to her students in a myriad of languages each day.

“Such a simple act renders students cognizant of languages and cultures other than their own,” said Rosenberg. “Our co-teaching model has become so effective on students, both academically and culturally, that kindergarten teacher Lori Farrell and ENL teacher Megan Boccard have designed a double-period literacy block which promotes both language and culture.”

ENL students were recently preparing for the NYSESLAT. In order to better engage students and promote cultural awareness, Rosenberg and Finocchiaro taught a guided reading lesson on Cinco de Mayo celebrations and traditions. Students were practicing literacy and language skills, while also learning about world cultures and having fun. After reading and answering comprehension questions, students had the opportunity to participate in a Mexican hat dance, a tradition they had just read about.

“I feel like I know a lot about Mexico now,” said May Moore first-grader Ragib Noor.

Continuing the theme of uniting cultures, the ENL Parent Liaison Committee, a group of ENL educators and ENL parents and family members, come together outside of school to discuss awareness, concerns, goals, scholarships and cultural community within the district. Several parents have signed up to be an outreach person to call when a new family enters the district and has limited English-speaking ability.

“Our culture is our pride and joy,” said JFK fifth-grader, Julia Holland. “It’s a beautiful thing to express and be proud of, and makes us a nation united. We all come together and work together in a good way, no matter where we are from.”

“Cultural awareness is like being excited and happy that we get to learn about different parts of the world, like different cultures and what they do,” said JFK student Rianna Sayed. “People show their spirit about their cultures and they are not scared of what anybody else thinks.”

“Cultural awareness is exploring different cultures, and it is very cool,” said another JFK student, Frank Viola. “It means that everybody is accepted no matter what culture they are from.”