The coronavirus pandemic didn’t prevent Santa Rita School from hosting its annual International Week, a tradition celebrating the school’s diversity.
Santa Rita’s PTA came up with a creative way to hold the event while still obeying the shelter-in-place orders: moving International Week online.
The PTA used Facebook Live to stream presentations at noon each day beginning March 23. The videos – created by students and parents – also were uploaded to the PTA’s YouTube channel and available directly on the school’s website.
“We had all these parents and students who were ready to do presentations, so we said, ‘You know, what a shame that we’re not getting to do this for the kids, because they really enjoy International Week every year,’” PTA president Gayle Mujica said. “So we decided, ‘Well, why don’t we just broadcast these on Facebook Live? It would give something for people to do and to keep kids engaged outside of their classrooms.’”
Each video received at least 200 views, according to Mujica, and most of them exceeded 300. Presentations shed light on some of the countries the students and/or parents are from, highlighting cultural elements such as traditional dances and
Mujica said that at first, she worried it would be difficult to recruit enough families to participate virtually, but that didn’t turn out to be a problem. The students were especially eager to take part.
“Kids have actually volunteered themselves,” she said. “The kids are really excited about kind of getting to share what they’re doing. I’ve actually had kids email me directly and ask to create a video themselves, and I’ve said, ‘Sure, you know, just get your parents to approve it and then we’ll play it.’”
Yang Liu, a PTA member and the mother of two Santa Rita students, said her family loved the idea and looked forward to tuning in each day to see a new presentation.
“When we found out that our school is going to continue those events through Facebook Live, we were thrilled,” said Liu, whose children created a presentation about China. “Seeing all the familiar faces online made us feel so connected.”
Her family’s online presentation reached the entire school – way more people than the in-person presentation would have, Liu added. Originally, each presentation was planned to be seen by only four classes.
Mujica deemed the online presentations a great success.
“The kids are seeing their classmates online, but they’re not necessarily seeing all the other kids in their grade or in the school. This is also letting the kids see others at their school,” she said. “The little kids are seeing the big kids do a presentation and vice versa, so they’re getting to feel a little bit more part of the school and not just engaging only with their class.”
Some of the liveliest presentations during International Week are usually the cultural dance performances held on campus.
“We have 12 different dances that are led by parents who taught the kids how to do Korean dance by Korean parents, Japanese dance by Japanese parents, Chinese dance by Chinese parents,” said Alice Lee, international liaison for the PTA’s executive board and coordinator of international events. “Because of the coronavirus, we had to cancel all those things.”
But the PTA managed to keep the dances part of the event by making them virtual.
“We had some parents (dance), among them me, who did a Chinese dance with my daughter,” Lee said. “We also had a Russian girl sing a Chinese fishermen song.”
The online version of International Week proved so popular that it was extended two more weeks. The second week featured more presentations and the third was dubbed “Cooking Week.”
“We had two girls who wanted to do a video for cooking week,” Mujica said. “They’re not in the same household, so they made a video where they each filmed different pieces at their respective homes and then spliced it together about making chocolate-covered matzo to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover.”
Virtual International Week set the framework to host more school events online. STEM Expo Week followed; a week devoted to sports, nature, art and music is also on the PTA’s agenda.
“I think (the events) were really successful,” Liu said. “Those events not only connected us as a community, but also gave kids incentives to do something fun besides schoolwork, given so many extracurricular activities were canceled as well.”