Smalley Elementary School celebrates community diversity

When Ms. Maria Cadavid, World Language Teacher at Smalley Elementary School, first joined Bound Brook in 2017 and learned of the diversity in the community, she was determined to hold an event where everyone could celebrate each other’s heritage.  

After several hurdles to launch the event, including the school closure due to COVID-19, the first multicultural celebration at Smalley took place last year. A total of 22 countries were represented.  

Two guest speakers were present at the event last year: a young Colombian lawyer, Catalina Melroy, who came to the US at age 11 and Jordy Chavez, a Bound Brook alumnus who graduated from BBHS at the top of the class and went to Harvard University. They both spoke about their journey to success and the importance of continuing to be bilingual. 

This year, attendance at the celebration doubled the previous in visitors. A total of 24 countries participated. Parents and students helped to create showcases for countries such as India, Italy, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Thailand, and more.

In preparation for the event, students worked on cultural poster projects during Ms. Cadavid’s class periods. Each grade was assigned a different topic: third graders crafted posters about their heritage, fourth graders each researched an important place in the country of their heritage, fifth graders created posters with recipes from their country and sixth graders each researched an important person from their country. All the completed posters were organized by country and used to decorate the walls of the cafeteria and hallways.

Guest speaker Dr. Kathryn Suk, a professor at Raritan Valley Community College, is an alumna of Bound Brook Schools who participated in the celebration last year as an attendee. She spoke about the importance of bilingualism in the community. 

To further support her message promoting bilingualism, Suk invited her student, Cristina Merino, to be part of the event. Cristina showcased the first public reading of a book she wrote detailing a fictional character’s experience with traveling from Mexico and then experiencing English as a Second Language education during virtual learning in the pandemic. The reading received high praises from students and parents throughout the night and beyond.  

“I not only wanted to speak to the community as a former alumna and a parent in the district,” says Suk, “but I also wanted to connect to the children and the parents in a way that they may not often feel connected. The fact that my student, Cristina, wrote this book and was able to write about such similar experiences and connections, I thought it would be a great occasion and it was just a beautiful, beautiful opportunity for her.”  

Dr. Alvin Freeman, Superintendent of Schools, adds, “It was an incredible celebration of our diverse community here in Bound Brook. The efforts made by students, staff and parents could not be more evident. From offering plates of food from their home country to the impressive displays, it was an amazing evening to spend together.” 

Josephine Leite, a parent who attended the event and helped to represent Portugal, also praised the evening’s festivities. “As a parent, the multi-cultural event at Smalley has felt like a little slice of home,” Ms. Leite says. “It is such a wonderful opportunity to learn, share food & culture from all the different countries that our children’s friends are from. It’s a magical experience that I hope becomes an annual staple at Smalley!” 

Ms. Cadavid emphasizes the importance of events like this and the significance of bilingual education for both parents and students. One of her main goals through hosting the event is to give the school community the opportunity to learn about each other and realize the beauty of sharing cultures. 

“I feel very proud of this event, and I give all the credit to the students and parents who responded and did an amazing job with their country showcases,” says Ms. Cadavid. “It was not only important for me to allow everyone to share their culture through food, decorations and posters, but also to reinforce the importance of being bilingual to our students who will have so many opportunities available to them because of it.”