Shelton school's lessons highlight inclusion, acceptance

SHELTON — For Sunnyside School Principal Amy Yost, inclusion is key — as important as reading, writing and arithmetic — when educating students, whether it be in a classroom or in a virtual setting.

For the past three years, Yost said the kindergarten through fourth-grade school has created a school-wide theme with multicultural lessons and activities that are integrated into the daily curriculum. This year, that theme has been globalization, which Yost said could not be more perfect in a world faced with a pandemic and a country facing so much divisiveness.

“Our goal is to always create a climate of acceptance, understanding and support,” Yost said. “This year, we are highlighting diverse cultures, religions and customs.

"We want to open their eyes to kindness (and) appreciation for one another, and the globalization theme is a way to show students how big this world is. We want kids to feel secure, to know that their traditions are accepted,” she said.

Every month, Yost said, there is a different spotlight: October is Italian Heritage Month; in December, students learned about various holy celebrations, from Kwanzaa to Hanukkah to Ramadan. Next month, students will focus on Mardi Gras and the Chinese New Year.

"This year’s pandemic has already shown our students that, even though our world is complex and sometimes challenging, there are many experiences that bring us together,” said Susan Krauss, Sunnyside’s English as a Second Language teacher.

The goal, according to Krauss, is to continue showing students examples of global citizenship so they can appreciate and accept that they are a part of one large, global community.

Cultural awareness is a critical part of global citizenship, Krauss said, and by introducing the concept of globalization to young children, Sunnyside’s teachers said they are hopeful that students will grow to be respectful, kind and empathetic toward people who have different heritage, cultures and religions.

Each month, the school highlights new countries and cultures based on universally designated heritage months.

Classroom lessons are centered on books that were selected based on the developmental levels of the students, along with the positive portrayal of cultures and countries. The cultural children's literature is read aloud to the children, both virtually and in person.

Yost credited the district with obtaining an ExcEL grant that helped provide funding for many of the materials used in the inclusion-oriented lesson plan.

“At Sunnyside, we believe that it is vital for children to see themselves in the curriculum, in the literature in our classrooms — virtual or in-person — and around the school,” Krauss said. “This fosters a sense of belonging.”

Either virtually or as a hard copy, each student was given a global passport at the beginning of the year. Activities involving music, art, games and cooking are being developed for each book: When students studied Italy, they had a virtual cooking lesson.

Also, photographs of the children's cultural artwork were synthesized into videos which allowed the children and parents to view the artwork virtually. As students learn about the different cultures, they are given a sticker in their passport as a keepsake.

Sunnyside School uses bulletin boards to reinforce the climate of globalization throughout the school, the educators said. Positive messages and learning presented in read-alouds are tacked onto a map that highlights the countries that are portrayed in the lessons.

The bulletin boards feature the covers of the read-aloud books, Krauss said, reinforcing the idea that Sunnysiders are global readers.

“Our lessons emphasize that their choices and actions may affect others at local, national and even global levels,” Krauss said. “Children around the world play similar games, love their families and have similar experiences. When students realize the similarities and explore the differences among cultures, they will be encouraged to accept others, regardless of differences in appearance, interests or opinions.”