Students explore South Pacific region through leis, tiki statues and art projects

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - First-grader Sydney Randall tries on a lei headband during Beaverton Education Foundation's Culture Week at McKay Elementary School on Friday afternoon.It’s not often a fifth-grade boy praises the ambience of his school gym, but the South Pacific “Oceania” theme at McKay Elementary on Friday proved too much for Hunter Rhead to resist.

“I like the decorations,” the 11-year-old said, praising the efforts of his fifth-grade teacher, Shelby Grant, and others. “Mrs. G makes it so nice for us.”

With help from teachers and volunteers, McKay’s gym was transformed to a slice of Oceania on Friday, with tropical decorations complemented by tiki masks, placards and Mauri tattoo art students created donning the walls. The decor and fanfare were part of McKay’s annual Culture Week, a Beaverton Education Foundation-sponsored event that immerses first- through fifth-grade students in the customs, culture, history and art of a particular TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tapa cloths made on brown paper bags were just one of the projects students at McKay Elementary School made during Beaverton Education Foundation's Culture Week.

Throughout May, students engaged in games, music and art projects related to learning about Oceania, a region comprising the South Pacific subregions of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia between Asia and the Americas. It’s the fourth year the school has participated in the project.

The foundation assigns a different country or region each year. Students in recent years have explored countries including Northern Africa, Japan, Egypt and India.

Friday’s event included a short film on Oceania’s history and culture, face painting in the traditional Mauri style, art projects exploring the countries, and a Hawaiian performance by dancers from the

Tigard-based ‘Onipa’a Ha’aheo Alaka’ino Na’auao Aloha, or O.H.A.N.A., foundation.

Mary Hoff, co-coordinator of the event for the third consecutive year, said the event represents a multi-curricular exploration that gets students fired up about learning.

“The kids look forward to this all year,” said Hoff, parent of a first- and third-grade student at McKay. “It’s something different, something exciting.”

In preparation for Culture Week and the Friday celebration, each class takes on a different project, such as creating colorful placards with Hawaiian words, elaborately colored wooden “tiki men” statues, making colorful leis and Mauri stamp tattoos depicting ocean life in the tropical region.

“It’s not just about art,” Hoff said. “There are words included throughout and using symmetrical patterns. The whole curriculum is involved.”

Helen Woller, a representative of the Beaverton School District’s Art Literacy Program and former Culture Week coordinator, said McKay Elementary goes to the greatest lengths of the schools involved in the program.

“All (district) schools have an Art Literacy Program. It’s six classes a year,” she explains. “This is the only school doing Culture Week. This focuses on culture and longstanding traditions and culminates with big action in the gym. We get to see all the artwork displayed.”

Fourth-grader Tarah Matar, who has fond memories of the Egypt-themed Culture Week event from two years ago, said she’s enjoyed the tikis and learning about the “big stones” on Easter Island.

“So far I like this one,” she said. “I really like art. (The event) gives all the fourth-graders a break from all the hard work we’ve done.”

Evan McKee said he looks forward to Culture Week

every year.

“Because it’s fun to try the food,” the fourth-grader said. “Especially because I’m always hungry.”

He also enjoyed the tapa cloth art, where the first step is crumpling up paper bags to create a textured surface for the animal-based and symbolic shapes.

“It’s kind of fun to do that stuff. It’s also really cool when we crumple up the bags.”

Rhead, who has enjoyed Culture Week since kindergarten at McKay, enjoys the activities even though he’s not the best artist.

“I like being an artistic person,” he said. “It’s quite fun. You can always learn more.”

The fifth-grader admitted he’ll miss being part of Culture Week when he goes on to Whitford Middle School this fall.

“It’s a great source of knowledge,” he says, “and it’s fun, which is great.” by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kara Igarta, Mary Hoff and Valerie Griffiths coordinated Culture Week at McKay Elementary TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Valerie Griffiths, co-coordinator Culture Week at McKay Elementary School, blows a seashell horn to entertain first-graders at the TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - First-grader Kerod Dugo makes a Tapa cloth on a brown paper bag during Beaverton Education Foundation's Culture Week at McKay Elementary School.

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