Art, dancing, movies to transform gym in annual cultural exploration

While not everyone is aware that the region known as Oceania comprises the subregions of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia between Asia and the Americas, anyone who sets foot in the McKay Elementary School gymnasium on Friday morning won’t forget it anytime soon.

As part of the Beaverton Education Foundation’s Culture Week, first- through fifth-graders at the school will display results of their in-depth explorations of the Pacific Ocean tropics region in an event held from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the gym.

While that event is geared toward the school community, others are welcome to visit McKay tonight (Thursday) from 5:30 to 7 p.m. for Art Literature Night. The event includes a short film, face painting in the traditional Mauri style, art projects exploring the countries of Oceania, and a Hawaiian performance by dancers from the Tigard-based ‘Onipa’a Ha’aheo Alaka’ino Na’auao Aloha, or O.H.A.N.A., foundation.

For the past month, students have engaged in games, music and art projects related to learning about the area. It’s the fourth year the school has participated in the project, for which the Beaverton Education Foundation assigns a different country or region. Students in recent years have explored Northern Africa, Japan, Egypt and India.

“The (foundation) assigns us a country,” explains Valerie Griffiths, coordinator of the McKay event and parent of fifth-grade twins at McKay. “They say, ‘Here’s your country this year,’ and we say, ‘OK.’”

Wherever it is, students — with considerable backing from teachers, staff and parent volunteers — fully immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, culture and history of the place. Students have focused on Oceania with individual classroom art projects for the past month and a half.

“We’re lucky enough to have volunteers to help kids get the whole experience,” Griffiths says. “We transform the gym into whatever country. We eat their food and watch movies. We want (students) to come out with a greater understanding of other cultures so they can gain respect and understanding of diversity — that it’s OK if people are different. People don’t have to fit into a (cultural) mold.”

Excitement for the programs has built in the past week or so, with students and teachers gathering for a pre-event assembly last week. Several parents sacrificed chunks of their Memorial Day holiday weekend to make the McKay gym come alive in full Oceania glory.

“It’s great to see the kids when they first see the gym transformed,” Griffiths says. “We work over the weekend, and students come in and are like, ‘Oh, wow. Look at this!’”

In this case, students aren’t the only ones getting something out of Culture Week.

“That’s got to be the best part of being a volunteer,” she says. “You get to learn so much along with the kids. Through their research, you’re learning things you didn’t know before at all.”

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