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On a biennial basis, a very special event takes place at Bear Tavern Elementary School. It’s called International Night (IN), and it’s such a large undertaking, that it requires two years to plan and implement. At each IN, five distinct countries are showcased, spanning multiple continents. This year’s IN-featured countries were France, India, Japan, Peru, and South Africa. During this PTO-sponsored event, classrooms are converted into distant lands; no detail is overlooked. Epcot has nothing on this event!

PhotoGrid_1458927432469On the eve of IN, the main hallway of the school is magically transformed into an airport, complete with “Bear Air” airplane fuselage ready for boarding. Bear Tavern Principal Christopher Turnbull and Safety Officer Brian Fauver serve as “Security Check Point Controllers” and ultimately as the “Pilots” of Bear Air. They greet the students and check them in for their “flight,” ensuring their travel documents are complete with proper photos. Students at Bear Tavern are given official passports generously donated by Au Pair in America. There are plenty of extra passports on hand for newly arriving passengers who may bring siblings or friends visiting from other schools.

Upon arrival into a “country,” the passengers are instantly transported to the sights, sounds, smells, and even the homecooked tastes of these far-off places. As participants enter each country, the focal point of each room is an artfully hand painted canvas, depicting an iconic scene or place from each country. The children’s passports are stamped, and they are given a small quiz about the country. The answers can be found as they tour the room. Once the quiz is completed and returned, they earn a realistic depiction of the currency from that country, that they can then use to purchase items from the “duty free” shop. The World Class International Duty-Free shop is stocked with souvenirs and trinkets from each country.

According to Genya Daukshka, one of the IN Committee Chairs,“We loved watching the kids marvel at the Mona Lisa, stroll through the gardens of Loire valley, and get a taste of authentic French cheeses while visiting France. We were amazed by the history and the colorful displays of picturesque South Africa, which included nothing less than a diamond mine that kids were invited to explore with flashlights. We enjoyed visiting the tropical, giant parrot-adorned Peru, complete with an authentic weaver and spinner who showed us how to work with llama fibers. In Japan, we had our names written in Japanese, admired the museum-quality doll display, and gobbled up the delicious veggie sushi that was served in a sushi boat. While in India, we sat on the footsteps of the Taj Mahal and had our heads wrapped in authentic Sikh turbans, while munching on samosas.

Mrs. Tina Overman and Mrs. Lisa Miller, both homeroom teachers at Bear Tavern, run a unique afterschool enrichment program for 4th and 5th grade students called the “Global Connections Club.” Each week in Global Connections (GC), the students were invited to taste different foods and desserts from each of the featured IN countries. This enabled them to “get into character” for their next task. With the help of their teachers, the students learned a great deal about each of the countries and spent hours researching and creating informative trifold display boards which outlined customs, unique crafts, and country specific games to share at the IN event.. The GC students’ roles are paramount to the success of the event.

Once on board Bear Air, travelers also enjoy the luxury of in-flight entertainment showcasing performances from the featured countries.

Mrs. Britt Dominick (BT music/vocal Teacher), conducts her own 4th and 5th grade enrichment program with her vocally talented “Treble Makers.” For this year’s event, Dominick taught them a French song entitled, “J’entends le moulin” which translates to “I hear the windmill.” This emotional performance was another highlight of the event.

Other scheduled performers included Bear Tavern students and members of the broader Hopewell Valley community. Two BT students, Adwhita Gopi and Pranathi Kummarapurugu, performed traditional and sacred Indian dances throughout the night. From France, melodic songs were featured, courtesy of Wenonah Brooks, a lifelong resident of Hopewell and Hopewell Valley High School Distinguished Graduate. There was also a Japanese martial arts show by Takeshi Kitagawa of Shotokan Karate, from neighboring Princeton, and a climactic South African fire (LED light) show performed by Faith Robertson and Liz Yakelewicz of Pennington’sAmber Spa .

Michelle Brennan, a Bear Tavern parent from Hopewell Borough, offered her congratulations and appreciation after the event to the IN Committee, saying that the event “blew me away. It was so well done and organized. The rooms looked incredible, the activities were adorable, and it was so informative. It is obvious that it took a tremendous amount of planning, effort, and volunteers to make this happen.”

In addition to allowing students and others to learn about other countries and cultures in an interactive and fun environment, IN opens up a conversation about cultural diversity at an early age. In this manner, the event offers an opportunity to foster cultural awareness throughout the Bear Tavern school community and within the District. In this unique setting, students were able to learn about and embrace culture differences, highlight, and celebrate them. Inthe days following the event, the children were eager to share their memories of the beautiful performances and amazing new facts they learned from each land.

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As a BT parent volunteer from IN’s India, Mandeep Arora of Titusville added, “Growing up as a practicing Sikh in Mercer County, I always wanted to share my culture with my classmates, teachers and community members. However, there wasn’t really an emphasis on diversity in those days. IN was a great initiative that allowed my family to share our culture with our Hopewell community and, most importantly, to learn about other cultures as well. Quite literally, IN allowed us to ‘wrap’ people around the Sikh culture. Tying turbans on non Sikhs was a dream for me personally, helping to demystify any misconceptions that may be in people’s minds. Awareness and education is key … and this event has enabled our community to take this the next level.”

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(left) Bear Tavern Principal Christopher Turnbull and (right) Peter DiDoanto Titusville resident

Ayami Aoyama, Japan’s representative and longtime Titusville resident, noted, “We chose to have two murals. One was [Japan’s] most recent popular anime ‘ Youkai Watch’ characters, and the other images are from popular wood print maker ‘Hokusai’s famous art work, which was popular two hundred years ago. I wanted to show [how] current popular kids’ culture such as anime [has evolved] from traditional Japanese painting and prints.” She went on to share that the Japanese Hina dolls that were on display in the IN Japan room were her personal set from her childhood, as part of a tradition that occurs on March 3 each year, which is Girl’s Day.

“I haven’t displayed the set since my childhood,” said Aoyama. “I felt that was so special and it was great occasion for the celebration of our next generation of kids. Now I finally feel how our mother [must have felt, displaying these sets,one- by-one, for her daughter’s future happiness] Although I don’t have any daughters myself, I finally passed on my mother’s soul to the next generation through this event. It was a beautiful night. I wish kids would learn openness and respect beyond cultural deference, through goodness of their parents and community.”

The BTPTO was pleased with the huge outpouring of support for IN from the HVRSD and the surrounding community, which include but was not limited to: donations of personal items and artifacts; volunteer support from our local Timberlane Middle School and Central High School students, and; through attendance, as people from throughout the community took part in this special evening. According to the IN Committee, plans are already underway for IN 2018, and support from the community is welcome and appreciated.

Jennifer DiDonato & Genya Daukshta are the co-chairs for International Night.

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