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Braeburn School Creates Multicultural Library

Helena Mansfield, a third grade teacher at Braeburn Elementary School in West Hartford, was inspired when she had the chance to share her Portuguese background with her daughter's first grade class at another school in town.

"I speak Portuguese because my parents are from Portugal," Mansfield said. "I told my principal here about my experience going into her classroom and how much I loved it. We showed where Portugal was on the map. We read in Portuguese. The kids were so amazed that, even though I wasn't born in that country, that I kept the language going strong. They didn't expect that from me."

Knowing the diverse background of Braeburn, Mansfield wanted to do something similar for her school's students that would open up culture and bring it alive in the classroom.

Along with Karen Gravel, who is an English for speakers of other languages teacher at the school, and Braeburn's principal, Jeff Sousa, they pursued and received a grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools that has allowed them to create a multicultural library of 24 books representing 21 different languages spoken by students across the school.

But they didn't stop there. To supplement that program, and make it real to the students, they've been inviting parents who speak those languages to visit their child's classroom to read in their language - just like Mansfield did for her daughter. And from that, a dialogue begins.

"They're coming in and embracing their culture, that is just wonderful," Mansfield said. "And here at the school, we're learning about their culture. They talk about what life is like in the country they were born in. The kids love to learn about that. They love to listen to the similarities and the differences. It goes along with our geography lesson. It all ties in."

They invited their first parent in October and the series will run all year long. So far, 12 parents have visited. They're hoping that each classroom will have at least one visitor.

Mansfield believes this program will go a long way toward creating kindness and acceptance in a community.

"We are celebrating that we are different but we're still the same and that we can learn a lot from each other," Mansfield said. "Learning doesn't stop outside the classroom. We can learn about one another and embrace each other's culture. It's important for them to learn about each other and their life outside the classroom."

Gravel said they've noticed that students have become very focused during these new lessons.

"The biggest thing is the kindness towards each other and the understanding of each other," Gravel said. "There's excitement when they do learn about new things."

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