This year’s Heritage Day event inspired a common question, asked often throughout the day in hallways and around lunch tables, and always followed by excited conversation: Where is your family from?
Heritage Day, a long-standing Ellis tradition that has been held for decades, is a celebration of all cultures and backgrounds represented by the student body at The Ellis School. Organized by the Ellis Parent Association (EPA), Heritage Day is traditionally a day of food, fun, and festivities that brings students, faculty, families, and staff together to celebrate and appreciate diversity, culture, and each other. It's a time to celebrate all the things that make each student their unique self and our pride in our families and communities, and Ellis employees and students alike enjoyed discussing family histories and learning from each other.
Marshawna Hill, the parent of an Ellis sixth grader and one of the Heritage Day committee chairs, says the event is a great opportunity for students to learn more about their families and where they come from, and to share their culture with their classmates.
“It’s a chance for everyone to become more cultured, learn about each other and about different places, and even get ideas about places they want to travel to and explore,” she shares.
This year’s school day celebration included over 36 different countries, with parents serving traditional foods from their countries in Alumnae Hall during lunch periods.
New this year, the celebration continued in the evening to provide an opportunity for families to come together to celebrate other unique aspects of their cultures. Families hosted tables to share an activity, crafts, or stories from their cultures with over 200 guests. Table themes and features included Henna art, Diwali, Russian folk art, food from Uzbekistan, a Moroccan tea ceremony, Han-style Chinese costumes with related books and calligraphy activities, Iraqi food and decor, Korean-American kids' books, cafe de olla with besitos de nuez and a Lotería card game, the history of the Kunitz German Bakery, the culture of Guam, and Persian New Year with handmade crafts from Iran.
Parents, students, and outside groups also shared traditional dances from their cultures in Janet’s Gym. Throughout the evening, there were Chamorro songs and dances from Guam; performances by Pittsburgh-area Irish Dance troupes, with dances led by Ellis students; West African dances; and traditional dances from India.
EPA President Sharae Curd says the evening expanded the celebration of culture beyond food and allowed for families that couldn’t participate during the day to also be part of the celebration.
"Heritage Night provides an opportunity for families to not only enjoy cuisines from other countries but to learn about traditions through the elements of storytelling, textiles, crafts, ceremonies, and dance,” she explains. "Extending the celebration to the evening gives families the chance to explore culture together and with other families in the Ellis community.”
The Ellis curriculum creates many opportunities for exploring heritage and culture, integrating this work into classroom learning and discussions, fostering connection and support through family and student affinity groups, and celebrating through events during the year. Events like Heritage Day, and Culture Jam which was held earlier in January, are special in that they bring the greater Ellis community together.
"I think Heritage Day allows the girls to feel empowered about who they are and who they represent,” says Marshawna. "It broadens their perspective about the world around us. It helps us become more well-rounded. I just think it makes us better people.”