Last Friday, students from Castellanos Elementary, a welcoming school for the 2013-14 school year, invited their peers from Paderewski Elementary to join them for an afternoon of ice cream, games, and conversation.
Inside tents on the school grounds, parents from the LSC at Castellanos served up ice-cream sundaes to students from both schools, then invited them to apply their favorite toppings. And as they did so, the students talked.
“Kids are kids,” said Castellanos Principal Virginia Jimenez, who was on hand to meet and speak with every Paderewski student. “At first, they were a little nervous and hesitant with each other. But by the end of the day, the conversation was flowing easily.”
The event was planned by the school’s transition committee and about a dozen student ambassadors – a diverse group of 4th-8th graders who were hand-picked by Principal Jimenez for a variety of reasons.
“Some students were chosen because of their strong leadership skills,” she said, “and some were picked so that they would have an opportunity to grow in that area.”
Jimenez and the transition committee had several meetings with the student ambassadors to prepare them for the cultural integration event, advising them on how to greet their new classmates and what topics of conversation would be positive and productive. They were encouraged to tell students about the many amenities and activities offered by Castellanos, including an extensive after-school program, but they were also advised not to shy away from sensitive issues.
“We told them that it’s important to acknowledge how Paderewski students feel about their school closing and what they think about coming to us,” said Principal Jimenez. “We needed them to understand that they should be sensitive to these issues.”
These conversations took place as students ate their ice cream, and continued during a tour of Castellanos’ building sections and classrooms. Then, to lighten the atmosphere, students took turns with the school’s button-making machine, creating buttons with their names on them then exchanging those buttons with students from the other school.
“Each Paderewski student left with a Castellanos kid’s button, and vice-versa,” said Principal Jimenez. “We asked them to bring them back when school begins so that they can remember that they already have a buddy here.”
According to Jimenez, the main goal of this cultural integration event was to help Paderewski students see that this is a diverse school community into which they will be warmly accepted.
“We want to ease their concerns and make them feel welcome,” she said. we want them to know that they won’t be looked at any differently then our current students. That at Castellanos, we’re all one school community.”