Benton County: A one-of-a-kind, multi-lingual school shines a light on community diversity.

At Garfield Elementary School in Corvallis, students don’t just learn about international diversity, they live it every day. As a Spanish immersion “School of the World,” Garfield is a place where nearly 6 in 10 students are English Language Learners, and a significant portion speak Arabic. Another 16 percent do not spend the whole year in one home. It’s not easy serving these varied populations, but the hard-working teachers and parents at Garfield embrace the opportunity to create young global citizens.

“Our school faces so many challenges, but the people that make up our school are phenomenal and committed,” says Courtney Shaff, co-president of the Garfield PTA along with her Spanish-speaking counterpart. “Essentially our kids are getting exposed at an early age to a broader sense of their world, which is way more than learning one-plus-one and two-plus-two.”

With support from the Gray Family Foundation, Garfield Elementary expanded its K-5 global geography curriculum, which culminates in the spring with International Night. In the weeks leading up to the celebration, each grade focuses on a theme, with an emphasis on equity and diversity. Teachers integrate the theme into various subjects and utilize grant funding to purchase bilingual books and art supplies, bring speakers to the school, and take classes on field trips. These books and cultural experiences help children grow a sense of pride in their culture, religion, and background, as well as a sense of belonging in their community, Shaff says.

First grade students recently studied Guatemala and designed and paint huipiles, or traditional Guatemalan tunics, for display at International Night. During their study of the tropical rainforest, fifth-graders watched a performance by Teatro Milagro, a bilingual theater troupe visiting from Portland through Gray Family Foundation funding.

“Theater is a way to reach students who might otherwise not be able to access curriculum in the traditional way,” says Karrie Woodruff, Garfield’s theater instructor. Inspired from watching the performance, fifth graders prepared their own play based on rainforest folk tales, developing their own characters, costumes and set design.

On International Night, families of many cultures gathered to share the achievements of their children through artwork on display, performances, food, music and crafts. For Garfield’s 400-plus students and their parents, siblings and friends who attend, it’s a proud event that showcases the best of their community.

“I can’t even begin to express the impact it’s had on our school,” Shaff says of the Gray Family Foundation grant. “It’s been phenomenal.”