Global Connections Brings Smith Middle School Families Together
Eighteen years strong is the current claim of the much-loved annual Global Connections at Smith Middle School, an event that filled nearly every space in the building on the evening of November 8. Principal Stephon Goode reflects the overall pride among staff, students and parents in celebrating the festival. “Global Connections continues to be the one event that consistently demonstrates the power of our Smith community,” he said. “It allows us to recognize our differences, not as something to divide us, but as something that can connect us and something we all can celebrate together.”
“Everyone is invited!” said Sherry Del Valle, English language arts teacher. “And that's really what it's about -- an invitation to delight in the diversity of our community. Our school stands as a place to gather our families and mirror a meaningful image of the cultures we embrace. While each of us may have a strong sense of self, we also see ourselves in Cuba, China, France and Africa. And that is only a small fraction of the world we celebrate at Smith.”
By 6:00 that evening, all of the Smith Middle and Seawell Elementary parking lots were overflowing, and the hallways were decked out and already filled with celebrants: students and their friends, multiple generations of families and seemingly the entire Smith staff. Robin McMahon, French teacher and one of the founders of the celebration, said, “Former students return and reconnect with us to share their stories; vibrant colors of traditional outfits fill the halls while our students excitedly show off their school as they escort their parents from classroom to classroom. In the auditorium, students take the stage to perform cultural dances, songs and much more in front of hundreds of people, most of them their peers. Our cultural assembly and shows create a school culture of engagement and acceptance.”
The abundance of food was eye-popping, and the choices among the sugary selections were especially overwhelming. McMahon’s French students (and their parents) ran a very popular crepe cafe, with fondue as well. Another group hosted the Cocoa Bean Cafe, with hundreds of chocolate confections. McMahon said, “We raised a total of $800 in our cafe and most of the items were $2, so that means about 400 people came through my classroom in two hours.” Vendors from Jamaica Jamaica, Palace International and Hunam Chinese sold full meals, but there were classrooms on each hallway with parents and high school siblings serving food from around the world.
Del Valle orchestrated the planning for the exhibitions. “We extend invitations to staff members, Smith families, and community organizations asking them to share their culture, history or international passion projects. We happened upon the perfect circumstances to highlight Cuba, for example. This exhibit was located in the library. Saludos Compay is a local band that brings music from Latin America and the Caribbean, and one of the members is a teacher at Frank Porter Graham Bilingue, Pablo Valencia. Trini Sadler is a parent in the district and has ties to Cuba. Her family arranged for the food. Our media specialist has roots in Cuba as well and displayed photos from the island that included family members and historical landmarks as a part of this extensive exhibit. It's the relationships and direct communication with families that allow us to make these cultural connections....It's what it’s all about.”
In addition to the nearly three dozen exhibits and demonstrations, a high point of the evening was the performance, which ran at 6:15 and 7:15. Danka Kulikowski, Smith theater teacher, planned and choreographed the cultural shows, including an assembly a week prior to Global Connections when more than 100 students carried flags representing their cultural heritage and performed cultural dances. “The Global Connections Show has now become an integral part of our evening’s events,” she said. “We run two different shows in the auditorium where we highlight the singing, dancing and public speaking talents of our students and faculty from many different cultures. Our theme this year was ‘Come Together, Let's Groove,’ and we were able to pack the auditorium for both shows with just over 525 audience members.”
In regards to the enormous amount of work required to showcase so many artistic, culinary and other cultural gifts, McMahon said simply, “Students and teachers spend extra hours at Smith because we love seeing the community come together. Our parents are a precious resource as they create interactive cultural exhibits that engage students in tasting new foods, learning a dance or creating a space that feels like they have been transported to a new country. It's an evening where the whole world is at peace.”