Sheehan School Hosts First Ever Cultural Festival


Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. A dancer demonstrates her cultural heritage at the Sheehan Cultural Festival.

For two hours in the early evening of Thursday June 9, 2022, the Sheehan School community enjoyed the school’s first Sheehan Cultural Festival, held outdoors. The event was organized by the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Subcommittee of the Sheehan School Parent Teacher Association, supported by student-family volunteers, and sponsored by nine local area businesses.

As they started to arrive at 5:30 p.m., the young attendees didn’t hesitate to launch themselves into the fun offered at various activity stations set around the school’s playground and lawn area. Just in case some encouragement might be needed, however, event organizers had also thoughtfully planned a passport-style scavenger hunt. Each child could pick up a square of paper with a grid of nine different activities. Participating in any activity would earn the child a smiley face sticker. Upon participating in all nine activities and successfully covering each square with a smiley sticker, the child could turn the completed paper in for a prize. Prizes were items like plastic toys and jump ropes.

The featured activities included a community art station, a visit to the Outdoor Learning Center, learning how to play the game of Mancala, learning to write names in Arabic, a potato sack race, applying henna tattoos, participating in a spoon race, and learning about Sri Lanka.

Students were also encouraged to attend any one of a number of music and dance performances going on through the event. Dancers in colorful costume performed the Irish Step Dance or the Bhangra, which is a traditional folk dance of Punjab in Pakistan and India. At a Sheehan Drum Circle, fifth graders also demonstrated the drumming that they learned in music class. Younger students were allowed take their turn at drumming, as well.

Attendees were able to add their own personal and artistic touches to Sheehan’s Welcoming and Weaving Community Project. The temporary art installation began at the end of this May. It is a reprisal of last year's temporary art installation by the same name. Over time, Sheehan students have added more and more images of welcome and inclusion on the wire fence that stands between the Sheehan playground and Sheehan Field. As was the case last year, members of the larger community are also invited to add symbols of inclusion to the current, growing, piece of art.

Food offerings available for purchase seemed just as popular as the activities. Attendees stood in line for twenty minutes to half an hour to dine on hand-made hot dogs with Boston specialty fries from a Boston Trolley Dogs food truck.  People in long lines also waited for dessert from an ice cream truck.

The intended spirit of the day was perhaps captured by what appeared to be an unscheduled and somewhat impromptu soccer game that started on Sheehan Field. A large and changeable group could be observed playing. The game continued through much of the festival. On this day, children moved in and out of the game seamlessly, seeming to have no question that each would be welcome to join and be included in the play.

Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Sheehan School Art Teacher Matthew Hagel and Lori Eckerle, a parent volunteer, staffed the henna table. Student Elin Frederickson applies a henna tatoo to her arm.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Pictured is an example of one of several henna tattoo designs that students could choose to apply for fun at the Sheehan Cultural Festival.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. From left to right, Westwood Public Schools Superintendent Emily Parks and Assistant Superintendent Allison Borchers attended Sheehan School's first Cultural Festival. They watched dance performances with Sheehan School Principal Kristen Evans and Secretary Eileen Erwin.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Two dancers performing at the Sheehan Cultural Festival.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Festival attendees form a semi-circle audience around a performing dancer.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Two children add to Sheehan School's temporary community art installation, next to the words, "Everyone is welcome."
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Hand-made hot dogs were a popular offering, with festival attendees forming a long line to purchase them.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. Lines form outside the ice cream truck at the Sheehan Cultural Festival.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. One activity station at the Sheehan Cultural Festival was a lesson in how to play the game, Mancala.
Photo by Darlene Wong Cancell. For a poster depicting inclusion, children had a choice of writing a word to describe themselves or add their photo to the poster.

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