Ray School celebrates student body diversity with food and activities

Ray School parent Jovana Sladojevic helps student Emilien d’Hubert read words written in Serbian Cyrillic script during the school’s International Night festival. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

BY SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Staff writer

On Oct. 16, students ran through the hallways of Ray Elementary giggling with their friends and excitedly talking to their parents and teachers about food they tasted from different countries and cultures. It was “International Night” when Ray School families were encouraged to share the food, snacks, and desserts important to their families and culture.

“Our International Night, we’ve been celebrating this for at least the past five years,” said Principal Megan Thole. “It’s a way to celebrate the diversity of our community in culture, art, geography and food. It’s a nice way to bring everybody together and celebrate our school community.”

According to Anne Renna, vice president of Friends of Ray PTO, families at Ray school speak more than 30 different languages. “This event is a really fun way for families to share information about their culture or their country and share food and recipes at the dinner in the lunchroom,” she said.

Throughout the evening, families went into the lunchroom to enjoy food at the pop-up potluck buffet or to the cultural resource fair in the hallway where families could participate in various activities. Although talk of the Chicago Teachers Union strike was brewing, the evening was a comforting refuge for everyone, and there was a large turnout.

Jovana Sladojevic, a mom who has one child in 1st grade and another in pre-K, was a participant in the cultural resources where she showed her pride for Serbia. She offered students and parents cookies, played music and tested their ability to match the English name for Pokemon to the Serbian Cyrillic name.

Ray School parent Carla Strickland and her daughter Keira put a Trinidadian Carnival headdress on student Kandle Williams during the school’s International Night festival. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Sladojevic was really excited to come to International Night, she said, “I always like to learn about other countries and try to present my country in the best light possible. I usually don’t have time but this year my friend is on the [Ray’s] PTO and he convinced us all, and I’m so glad he did because it’s been a lot of fun.”

Since Slagojevic was born in Serbia, International Night was a fun way to teach her kids, who were born in America, about her birthplace, “On a daily basis I don’t always have time to teach them [about Serbia]. This was a project for us to work on together and for them to learn some famous Serbian people or things like that.”

Mother of two Cynthia Bagrowski was busy looking for her children — Edith, 9, and Oliver, 7 — who were enjoying the evening’s festivities when she stopped to talk about International Night with the Herald.

“It’s fantastic, there is so much diversity. I love it. I love that everyone is excited to share in each other’s diverse cultures and food. It’s really the energy,” said Bagrowski.

Even though the teacher’s strike was set to start Thursday morning, she wasn’t surprised by the turnout saying, “Ray School’s parents and families are just very supportive. Despite the fact that there is a strike tomorrow, we are still going to celebrate our school today.”

During International Night, Bagrowski tried Trinidadian peas, mustard greens and tamales.

Many families, like Bagrowski and Sladojevic, were able to leave Ray School that evening on a high note before school closed on Thursday for the teacher’s strike.

s.smylie@hpherald.com