- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Japanese carp made of paper and streamers and decorated with colorful hearts, stripes and water drops hung from the ceiling. Black and white panda drawings and Chinese dragons cut from red paper were draped around the doorways of classrooms, their forked tongues stuck out at anyone who entered.

It was time for the Eastern Asian Pathways Celebration at University Elementary, and students gathered in the halls beneath their handmade purple, red, pink and green Chinese lanterns wearing copies of The Herald-Times folded into samurai hats.

Every learner was involved in the production, from sixth-graders who performed a Chinese ribbon dance to first-graders who sang traditional Japanese and Korean folk songs.

“We have a really large eastern Asian population at our school,” Maggie Olivo, University Elementary Music teacher, told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/1h5nxsD ).

“School community is so important to us because our school is so diverse. We are an international school, and we also have kids who have been born and raised in southern Indiana,” Olivo said. “It’s an opportunity to connect with their peers who come from other countries.”

University Elementary applies for a global grant each year, and for the last three years, they’ve been able to study a different region by inviting artists from the community to share their culture with students.

“We’ve found that with the cultural immersion, the students really get it, and it really resonates. We are hoping to expose them to a different region every year so the idea is that if they start in kindergarten, by sixth grade they’ll have gotten to see seven different parts of the world,” Olivo said.

The whole school studied Eastern Asian cultures this year thanks to a grant awarded by the Foundation for Monroe County Community Schools and Indiana University’s global studies department. Two artists in residence - Molly Jeon, a Japanese singer and teacher at Bloomington High School North, and Haran Kim, a printmaker and digital artist from South Korea - helped to give the students a better understanding of cultures across the globe.

From eating their lunch with chopsticks to playing Eastern Asian versions of rock, paper, scissors, the students got exposure to elements of other cultures. “Even though they come from the other side of the planet, they see a lot of connections,” Olivo said.

With help from University Elementary librarian Mary D’Eliso and art teacher Gladys Newsom, the students had lots of opportunities to learn about different facets of Eastern Asian culture.

“I’ve always liked Japan, but it was cool to learn about China and Mongolia,” said 12-year-old Josette Gasana. “The culture is really rich and genuine. There are so many traditional things they’ve kept for so long,” she said.

Eleven-year-olds Javenique Roberts and Solon Jeon enjoyed learning to write their names in Korean using calligraphy.

“I want to visit Japan,” said Javenique. She’d like to go during festival season.

Solon was excited to sing “Soran Bushi,” a traditional Japanese fisherman’s song.

University Elementary students not only got to showcase their learning by dancing and singing before their peers, but also watched a performance by students from Bloomington High School North who are studying Japanese.

Wearing traditional Japanese red and blue happi coats and hana hats covered in red flowers, the students danced and sang “Hanagasa Ondo,” a flower hat song, for the students.

“It’s really fun,” said North student Sarah Whitmer.

“It’s an honor to show the culture to younger students,” said Jessie Grubb, another student from North. “I hope they get interested in studying Japanese.”

“Being a role model is important,” said Molly Jeon, their teacher. “Internalizing it through sharing it motivates them to study.”

From her point of view, sharing music from different cultures brings people together. “It’s really quite exciting,” she said.

___

Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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