Lyman hosts Diversity Fair

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Lebanon - posted Tue., Apr. 30, 2013
Students vote for their favorite booth at the Lyman Diversity Fair on April 26. Contributed photos.
Students vote for their favorite booth at the Lyman Diversity Fair on April 26. Contributed photos.

More than an hour after the official end of this year’s Diversity Fair at Lyman Memorial High School, students from Norwich Free Academy and Lyman were still socializing in the corridors of the school. In the atrium, four young women stood, chatting and laughing as they watched Joseph, a Lyman student, demonstrate some dance moves. Ashley, also a Lyman student, was serving as a host of the event. Linya, Cichen and Duoma were all visiting from N.F.A., recent immigrants from China and Tibet.

Also represented among this year’s visitors were the countries of Peru, Haiti and Cape Verde, according to Leo Butler, director of diversity at N.F.A. The Diversity Fair was started a number of years ago by Lyman teacher Elizabeth Anastasio, who involved N.F.A from the start. “It was an effort to take something that we have at N.F.A., diversity, and bring it to another school without much diversity,” said Butler.

While Lyman students certainly benefit from learning about other cultures, “It’s a learning experience for our kids, too, coming to a rural school,” said Butler. For many immigrant students, N.F.A., situated in a diverse urban environment, is their only experience with an American school. Visiting Lyman gives them a more comprehensive view of what an American education is all about. And it is a positive experience for his students, according to Butler. “My kids have never, ever claimed that a Lyman staff member hasn’t been friendly and accepting,” he said.

That atmosphere of acceptance has been carefully cultivated by the school over recent years through a number of different initiatives. There are numerous activities throughout the year, including the making of banners and “peace rocks,” solidarity days such as “Wear Purple Day,” and programs featuring outside visitors.

This year’s visitors included Connecticut Comptroller Kevin Lembo, the first openly gay individual to be elected to statewide office, Echo Uganda, a drumming group from Africa, and Laila Lalami, a Moroccan-American author and a professor from California. The Diversity Fair involves the local community, N.F.A. students, and Lyman students and staff in a day of diversity-themed activities.

“Each booth offers some sort of interaction or activity that people visiting the booth participate in,” said Liza Escott, a Lyman English teacher, the diversity coordinator for the school and the organizer of the fair. Represented this year were: yoga, tai chi, world dance, golf, Amnesty International, the Anime Club, and many other groups and activities. There were booths dedicated to the cultures of Cape Verd, Haiti, Tibet, Palestine, China and Peru, and a booth celebrating African American culture.

New this year was the addition of a senior citizens booth, hosted by a local couple.  “At the end of the fair when I went to thank them they expressed just how much they had enjoyed themselves and how they can't wait for next year,” said Escott.  “We are hoping to extend the community involvement next year even more as a way of expanding the fair,” continued Escott. “The best part of the event is realizing that so many people willingly volunteer their time and effort…to make it one of the most popular annual events at the school.”

“Our kids get an opportunity to feel good about themselves,” said Butler. “It’s not often that they get to share who they are, to share their culture with others.” The biggest lesson learned? “Kids are kids,” said Butler. Whether they’re worried about a test coming up or the fact that mom and dad are being too strict, “there are so many similarities,” said Butler. “Kids are kids.”

Butler points out that diversity is not just about white getting along with non-white. In a diverse school such as N.F.A., serving kids from as many as 40 different countries at any one time, acceptance and understanding must be cultivated among all groups. “Diversity is everybody learning to get along with everybody else,” said Butler. And for stepping up the promotion of acceptance, Lyman deserves credit, said Butler. “They go beyond the verbal piece and actually apply the dream, the concept, to the real world,” he said.

Butler said he's heard some question whether all the effort is worth it. “If a student, or an adult, spends just five minutes learning about somebody else, how can it not be positive?” said Butler. “That’s education.”

On Tuesday, May 14 at 7 p.m., Lyman Memorial High School will be hosting Paul Rusesabagina of Hotel Rwanda. “During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Paul protected 1,268 people from the slaughter while they hid in the Mille-Collines Hotel,” reads a press release. A $10 admission donation will go to the Hotel Rwanda Foundation. For reservations call 860-642-5699 or e-mail kevin.brodie@lebanonct.org.


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