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Amesbury School – Celebrating Diwali

Angela Johnston
Sonali Singh

Staff and students at Amesbury School recently celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. During the five day festival, students took part in learning experiences that built on their understandings of cultural diversity and enabled students of Indian heritage to share their knowledge and customs.

In this snapshot, teacher Sonali Singh and Associate Principal Angela Johnston describe the activities from the week and explain why they brought Diwali to life at Amesbury School.

What happened at Amesbury School during your week of festivities?

A group of teachers, students, and parents decorated our school with lights and lanterns to initiate Diwali celebrations. We displayed battery operated, coloured tea lights around our office area and hung strings of coloured lights through our learning hubs. The idea was to create a pathway of lights through our school like the pathway of lights in the Diwali story that guide Rama and Sita home.

Diwali

The lights immediately engaged our students and we could hear lots of excited chatter about them. Students were asking each other “Do you do this at your house? What does it mean? Why are the lights up?” Hearing the curiosity in children and the pride in sharing Diwali customs was a real highlight.

“The pathway of lights are nice and bright. It feels like you are in a place like India. In India it is really colourful. The warmth and the happiness of the religion flows through the school.”

Student voice

We planned a range of learning opportunities for our students throughout the week of Diwali. Teachers in each learning hub ran different activities for their classes which included:

  • listening to and reading Diwali stories
  • colouring rangoli patterns
  • making a collaborative rangoli pattern using chalk and dyed coconut
  • making barfi, a famous Indian sweet food
  • researching Diwali customs
  • making paper garlands.
Rangoli pattern.

We held a mufti day on the last day of Diwali (Friday 9 November) where we invited students to come to school in their own special occasion clothes. Many of our Indian students wore shalwar kameez or lehenga. Students from other cultures wore traditional clothing such as cheongsam or lederhosen and special occasion clothing such as shirts, dresses, blazers, and skirts. It was a true celebration of the multiculturalism of our school.

Diwali activities

Some of our Indian students developed a slideshow presentation about the Diwali festival and shared it with the whole school during our Friday assembly. Their presentation embraced the principle of ako – they were our cultural experts bringing their own knowledge, experiences, stories, and customs to the rest of the school.

We came together as a whole school on Friday afternoon to enjoy additional Diwali activities in our whānau groups. 

Our focus on Diwali didn’t end on the last day of the festival. We are exploring the genre of report writing in our writing programmes and we have asked students to write news reports about our Diwali celebrations. We saw a perfect opportunity to capitalise on the learning and cultural experiences that we have all shared.

Why celebrate Diwali at Amesbury School?

At Amesbury we have a culturally diverse student population with approximately 46% of our students identifying as Asian. Our largest two Asian ethnicities are Chinese and Indian. Key considerations for us are:

  • how can we best support progress and achievement for our Asian students?
  • how can we honour their cultural identities, languages, and cultures?

Two years ago we carried out a student wellbeing survey. The results from this survey showed that students believed that their teachers knew them well as learners but not quite so well from a cultural perspective. In response to these findings, we decided to work harder at reflecting the culture and traditions of all of our students in our school curriculum – allowing them to see their stories, values, and languages in the learning experiences that we offer and allowing us to build greater understandings around their cultural identities. One of our strategic goals is to celebrate cultural events that are important to our students and their families.

Determining what cultural events we should celebrate has required community consultation. We surveyed our families to find out what festivals and events they honour. Their voices led us to add Diwali and the Lunar New Year to our school calendar. Matariki and te wiki o te reo Māori are other key events that we celebrate. We use the term Lunar New Year instead of Chinese New Year because our Korean families also celebrate this cultural event. We don’t want to isolate cultural groups in our school through our language.

We acknowledged Diwali last year but this is the first year that we have developed a comprehensive learning programme around it. We hope to make it an annual event that builds on the successes of previous years.

Where did you source your cultural expertise around Diwali?

Sonali, who is one of our junior school teachers, has Fijian Indian heritage and she celebrates Diwali every year with her family and friends. Sonali has led Diwali celebrations at our school this year. She shared her own experiences and knowledge of Diwali with the rest of the staff and sourced activity ideas from NZC Online. Our teachers have used Sonali’s cultural expertise and ideas to create engaging learning experiences for our students, recognising opportunities for curriculum integration.

Next year we hope to engage with our Indian parents and families more, inviting them to help shape our Diwali celebrations, share their customs and knowledge, and lead learning activities.

What is the impact of your Diwali celebrations?

The empowerment of our Indian students through our Diwali celebrations has been wonderful to see. They have delighted in having their culture, values, and stories acknowledged. These students have the experiences and they are putting their hands up to share their knowledge. This is supporting the development of their oral language, their self esteem, and their sense of cultural identity.

“At home, at night we get divas and put them around the house. It’s because Diwali is the festival of lights and we like to have our own lights. It’s a celebration of Lord Rama and his wife Sita’s homecoming after 14 years of exile.”

Student voice 

Celebrating Diwali shows our Indian students that we see them as individuals, that we respect their way of knowing. It also gives the rest of our students the opportunity to understand other cultural practices and to practice the values of manaakitanga (respect and care) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship and protection).

“It’s always good to understand about everyone’s cultures so you have a better understanding of the world around you.”

“It’s important to respect the beliefs of others.”

Student voices

As students learned about the customs and beliefs around Diwali they began to recognise and discuss their own customs and beliefs. They compared Diwali traditions to their own traditions. This was an interesting outcome because earlier in the year some students found it difficult to see their own culture. Diwali helped students make the connections.

It’s about respecting your own culture and the cultures of others.”

Student voice

Last year, we repeated the student wellbeing survey and we have noticed a significant shift in results. Many more students now feel that their teachers know and celebrate them as a culturally located person. We think that the integration of Diwali and other cultural events into our school calendar has influenced this shift.

Diwali candles

What advice do you have for other schools who may want to do something similar?

  • Start with the planning early, get the event into your long term plan and set aside time for the organisation.
  • Look for cultural expertise in your school community. It could be a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, or a local Indian community group.
  • Have some clear outcomes of what you want to achieve. You need to know your “why”.
  • Integrate the event with other learning areas to create authentic learning opportunities.
  • Harness the knowledge of your students, ask them to share the most important part of Diwali to them.

Amesbury School would like to thank the Asia New Zealand Foundation for their support. A grant from the Foundation was used by the school to purchase lights and other resources to support their Diwali and Lunar New Year celebrations.

You might like ...

Diwali – Festival of lights
This events page on NZC Online provides ideas and resources to help you celebrate Diwali with your students and school community.

Asia Knowledge on TKI
This website supports schools to design a curriculum that promotes awareness and knowledge about Asia.

Published on: 03 Dec 2018


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