It was sunny and warm inside Oak Meadow Elementary’s gymnasium Friday afternoon, despite the dismal weather outside, where 300 people packed the house for the first Heritage Festival.
Event organizer and Oak Meadow parent Cigdem Askin envisioned holding such an event since her fifth-grader first started school back in kindergarten, but with three younger children and a busy life her dream didn’t come into fruition until this spring.
A native of Turkey, Askin has lived in America for more than 20 years. And upon learning that Oak Meadow has the highest percentage of “English Learner” students in the Buckeye Union School District, Askin thought the festival would be the perfect opportunity to celebrate the various cultures that make up the school population. With help from parent volunteers a free event aimed to promote friendship among students and families was the goal, said Askin.
For its inaugural year, nine countries were represented at the festival — India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Poland and Turkey — with more countries planned for next year. Each cultural booth had impressive, museum-like displays completely run by parents and students. There were food samples, clothes, musical instruments and artifacts specific to each country.
A student mural made of more than 300 individual paintings with the theme “Families around the world dancing in El Dorado Hills” was the backdrop to the stage.
And if visitors weren’t watching the continuous entertainment, which included performances by members of El Dorado Hills Taekwondo, global dances and student magic tricks, they made crafts or visited each of the nine cultural exhibits around the perimeter of the room.
Student visitors were granted a passport upon entry to the gym. A visit to each of the exhibits allowed students to fill in their passports with factual information specific to each country, including its capital, population, name of currency and official language. Prizes were awarded to those who got stamps from every country in their passports and larger prizes from various community sponsors were given to 13 lucky winners.
Oak Meadow Vice Principal Paul Stewart said he’s proud Oak Meadow is the first school in the district to have a heritage festival at this scale, and he welcomed neighbors who came to get ideas for their own schools. Instead of the regular Friday school spirit wear, Stewart said students were encouraged to wear clothes representing their country of origin.
Parent Marcin Makarewicz manned the cultural booth for Poland with his two daughters, Oak Meadow third-grader Anna and first-grader Isabella. He said he enjoyed sharing facts with his daughters about his homeland; he moved to America at age 9. He pointed out the amber and woodwork, which is prevalent in Poland and described the sweet Polish treats on hand that he ate as a young boy.
Cigdem Askin credits the 50 parent volunteers and community sponsors for making the event possible. “Because of them this was a free event, truly a community endeavor.”