Okte Elementary School students were able to accomplish in a day a feat that Jules Verne’s character, Phileas Fogg, was barely able to complete in a span of 80 days: travel around the world.
The journey didn’t require any trains, planes, ships or any other forms of transportation, other than the movement of their own feet in the cafeteria of Okte Elementary School during the International Celebration Fair.
As they passed the threshold of the doorway, making their way through customs, they each received a passport to document their trek through China, Korea, Ethiopia, Puerto Rico, Italy, Canada, Mexico, St. Lucia, Lebanon, Israel, Argentina, India, Antarctica, Portugal, the Dominican Republic and Germany. The explorers wrote their name, grade, the date of their expedition, favorite continent, favorite country and the best discovery on their travels. Along with a passport, the students were also provided a map of the world — a vital tool for any adventurer.
It was like the miniature version of Walt Disney World’s Epcot Theme Park.
The event was the brainchild of Ana Roca Castro, a member of the Okte PTA who once worked for the United Nations. The mother of a kindergarten student and a third- and fourth-grader was dressed in red from the flower in her hair to her high heels as she hosted tiny tourists dropping by the Dominican Republic.
“When you’re in suburban America, it’s hard to be exposed to diversity,” she said. “When I saw it was missing here, I asked the PTA and they were very excited. It’s great to expose kids to multiculturalism when they are young and in their formative years; research shows that the earlier you expose them the more inclusive professionals they become later.”
Students wandered from country to country. The stations, all created by Okte parent volunteers or PTA members, were elaborate. Plain tables were transformed with colorful tablecloths, decorated trifold poster boards and pictures of the country that they were representing. Most displayed the country’s currency, politics and language as well as maps and images of revered locations. Each place also incorporated details that were distinctive to that individual country. Some of the parents even took it to the next level by dressing in traditional garb of their particular country.
In China, children marveled at the beauty of Chinese calligraphy on yellow parchment, the art of paper cutting, delicate miniature Peking opera masks made of porcelain in various shades. They stared at sparkling sari clothing and bracelets in India. Discovered the salt-saturated Dead Sea in Israel. Smelled the spices of nutmeg, cinnamon, bay leaves and cocoa in St. Lucia. Gazed at Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the various shapes of pasta in Italy. Sampled pretzels and gummy bears, both invented in Germany, while passing through Berlin.
“Hallo, welcome to Germany,” Rebecca Oechsner, co-president of the Okte PTA, said as she greeted a group of third-graders. “You can call me Fraulein.”
As a teacher exited the cafeteria with a clump of students he turned to Principal Lisa Mickle and said, “This is great; it’s what kids will look back and remember about elementary school.” As they headed back to class, they held their passports, full of stickers.
One day, many years from now, they will unearth this piece of paper while cleaning out their belongings or find it resting in a box in the attic. Then, they will think back to the day when they were able to see the world and they didn’t even need a permission slip to do it.