In ASF’s mission statement, the word international is prominent and intentional. To understand this label that identifies and commands many of the institutional decisions from staffing to curricula, a simple visit to a classroom, an event, or an exhibition will demonstrate that international is at the core of ASF. The Mother Tongue Week in the ECC and International Day in the Middle School are two divisional events that elucidate, celebrate, and educate the ASF community’s drive towards internationalism.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco), a language is lost on average every two weeks, taking with it the entire culture and intellectual heritage. In light of this startling statistic, Unesco promotes, celebrates, and memorializes Mother Tongue Day, celebrated every year on February 21. The teachers at the Early Childhood Center realigned last year’s efforts and turned February 18 to 22 into Mother Tongue Week, which celebrated the cultural connection to language and identity.
The Monday of Mother Tongue Week began with an enhanced flag honors ceremony which the entire ECC participates in every Monday. Ms. Erin Trautman, Head of ECC, explains, “We have flag honors every Monday as required by the SEP where we sing the United States and Mexican national anthems.” However, this week’s ceremony included a reading of the classic book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle, originally published in 1967, and translated into 31 languages. The opening ceremony concluded with a rousing flag-waving event.
Parent and student volunteers read Martin’s book in both Korean and Spanish. While the entire student body, faculty, and staff listened intently, Sarah Cho and her daughter Hara Cho read the Korean translation then followed by Rubén Roa and his mother Leticia García with the Spanish translation. Both Hara and Rubén are in K2 and spent time practicing the reading. “When I asked Hara, she was so interested in reading in Korean with me.” Cho explained the excitement led to nights of practice. Cho affirmed the importance of native languages:
I think learning . . . starts in the home and in the child's mother tongue. Parents need to communicate with their child in the mother tongue to not just facilitate better learning but also to connect them to their history, culture and traditions of their own ethnic group.”
After the readings, Trautman queued up K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” song, and each student waved the flags with which they identified. Susi Pucci, Language Development Specialist at the ECC, explains the significance of this. “Language and culture cannot be separated. In the ECC, we encourage students to wave the flag or flags in which they identify. Some students have more than one flag. If we told students what flag they should wave it would be us pushing our identity on them. We want the students to develop their own understanding of who they are in our world.”
Throughout the week, teachers invited students to bring in artifacts from their country and share the significance to the culture. Classroom charts were made to identify the varied and expansive languages spoken. Classes mapped out the diaspora of countries that represented their classroom. Students taught other students how to count to 10 and to say hello in their native languages. Volunteers, mostly parents and grandparents, joined classrooms to teach colors, numbers, and greetings in their native languages. They brought in food, dressed in traditional culture clothing, and shared songs and cultural stories. The entire school was abuzz throughout the week with multicultural exploration and celebrations. Pucci summed it up best, “Multilingualism is awesome! It should absolutely be celebrated.”
This celebration infected the entire ECC. Every teacher and in every classroom celebrated the week with special guests and events focusing on a particular culture connected to the classroom and students. In Ms. Leslie Shimanovich’s K1 class the schedule was full throughout the week. She welcomed Dieter Olivo, who is Cassandra’s Opa (German for Grandpa) to the classroom to share the family’s German culture. Opa captured the three and four-year-olds with introductions. “Wie heißt du?” Opa asked, and each child would respond in varying degrees of confidence, “Ich heiße . . ..” From there Opa taught the eager students colors and brought that part of the lesson together with a German story. However, surely winning the hearts of Ms. Leslie’s students was when Opa reached into his bag of goodies and pulled out corresponding colored gummy bears to the delight of children. Ms. Leslie also opened her classroom to the Indian culture where her students learned about Hinduism from Joaquín’s parents, Jessica and Rodrigo Galicia, who wore traditional Indian costumes. They shared traditional spices and food and taught colors and numbers. Ms. Leslie tapped into her own resources and invited her friend Martha Maiselson into the classroom to share the French culture through colors, dancing and Nutella crepes. Ms. Leslie's excitement as evident in the classroom and she shared why she believed doing this was important, “It's more than mother tongue . . . it is a celebration of the different languages in our world. We all have verbal and nonverbal languages. Language is everywhere! As global and international students they learn to be aware and open to other ways of communication and identity.”
Celebrating her student’s cultural diversity, Ms. Ileana M. Garciatardiff, K3 teacher, also scheduled the entire week with cultural excursions for her classroom. Her diverse class flew flags from Guatemala, Brazil, Italy, Israel, Colombia, Mexico, and Turkey. Each day a featured student’s culture was introduced. On Monday, Tania shared her Guatemalan culture, Tuesday highlighted Colombian culture with Eva and Andrés Astudillo, Wednesday brought Italy to the classroom with Nat, Thursday Israel took center stage with Nicole, and Friday closed the week with two cultural immersions from Brazil with Henrique and Turkey with Demirhan.
While so much more was happening in so many more classes in the ECC during the week, preparations for the International Day in the Middle School (MS), which echoed the same intentions of Mother Tongue Week, were well underway. International Day is, according to Guy Cheney, Middle School Dean of Students, “a celebration that brings awareness to the international nature of our school. While we are the American School in Mexico City, we are also an international school with students from nearly 50 different countries.”
On Friday, March 22, the first International Day successfully left its impression on the students. According to Dr. Robert Lewis, Head of the Middle School, this was the plan, “International Day is just a way to crack the door open to make our student body more aware and accepting of our diversity.”
Two years of planning led to the Middle School’s first annual International Day. Advocacies, an assigned class where students can gain individual and collective time with the teacher and each other, selected a country. The countries chosen for this selection were only countries that represented the cultural backgrounds and identities of the current student body. Those included: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States and Venezuela.
January 28 was earmarked for Flag day. This was the day advocacies constructed their flags for their assigned country. On January 30, parent volunteers were arranged to meet with the advocacies to share their country and culture and to help brainstorm ideas. The weeks leading up to International Day, advocacies worked hard to research their country. Each advocacy’s responsibility lies in the country booth on the day of the event. Students prepared to present at their booth at least seven items: a country flag, a representation and explanation of two iconic locations within the country, a historical event or cultural celebration that celebrates a positive aspect of the country, identify and or provide an important dish with the recipe, quality two notable historical figures, create and display a travel brochure with an itinerary, report positive current events, and create and provide a country stamp for student passports.
During the event, all students carried passports with the countries listed. They were required to visit at least five country booths during a 30-minute interval. Their “travels” were validated with country stickers provided at each country booth. To ensure every student could present, share, and explore they were grouped into A, B, and C categories. While A students “traveled” B and C students manned the country booths and presented to their peers. After 30-minutes, this rotated until all students had the opportunity to present and explore.
The coordination of the day was arranged by Guy Cheney, MS Dean of Students, and Diane Clement, MS Student Activities Specialist, “We have 40 advocacies and identified 29 countries our student body identified with. Many students were represented.” Clement shared. “The Parent Association was a big help. They were able to reach out to the parents to work with our Advocates.” Clement further explained. The parents came to classes to inform the students about their country and culture, but also committed to bringing in the food to share on the day of the event. Grade 8 student, Sebastián Castañeda, explains the significance of International day, “It helps us have a deeper understanding and new appreciation of different cultures. It was a great opportunity.” Another grade 8 student Edurne Perez, shared that the effort put into the day by the students opened their eyes, “It makes us more tolerant of the different cultures of the school.”
Dr. Lewis, Head of the Middle School, sees this first International Day as an opportunity for the entire ASF campus. He shares this thought, “I see this taking off across the entire campus. Can you imagine the entire ASF community celebrating our cultural diversity? That would be amazing.”
The celebration of Mother Tongue in the ECC and International Day in the MS unifies three foundations: a mandate, a mission, and a commitment. UNESCO believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies. It is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others. ASF is “an academically rigorous, international, university-preparatory school, which offers students from diverse backgrounds the best of American independent education. In all aspects of school life students are encouraged to love learning, live purposefully and to become responsible, contributing citizens of the world." As a policy, the International Baccalaureate is “committed to supporting multilingualism as a fundamental part of increasing intercultural understanding and international-mindedness, and is equally committed to extending access to an IB education for students from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds." It is upon this foundation that the ECC celebrates Mother Tongue week and the MS celebrates International Day. Susi Pucci, the Language Development Specialist for the ECC, explains this foundation, “With our ever-changing world and global community, we are celebrating and living up to these statements. Knowing who we are, and where we come from is paramount in teaching/learning about their (students) place in the world. . . . Student identities are constantly being negotiated and shaped throughout all the years of schooling, and is an asset in educating the whole child. These gifts are transportable and transferable with their lifelong learning of understanding who they are in the wider world.”