OJCS and Hulse students hold Day of Cultural Understanding: ‘We’ll never forget this day’

The student authors of this report with Holocaust survivor Elly Bollegraff at the 15th annual Day of Cultural Understanding for Grade 6 students of Charles H. Hulse Public School and the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS), June 21. (From left) OJCS student Ari Kotkowski; Hulse students Yaksh Patel and Mariam Abdulhamidkhon; Elly Bollegraaf; Hulse student Reesha Tafseer; and OJCS students Talia Cherun and Jessica Ages.

The student authors of this report with Holocaust survivor Elly Bollegraff at the 15th annual Day of Cultural Understanding for Grade 6 students of Charles H. Hulse Public School and the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS), June 21.
(From left) OJCS student Ari Kotkowski; Hulse students Yaksh Patel and Mariam Abdulhamidkhon; Elly Bollegraaf; Hulse student Reesha Tafseer; and OJCS students Talia Cherun and Jessica Ages.

Grade 6 students from Charles H. Hulse Public School, whose student body is predominately Muslim, and the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) held their 15th annual Day of Cultural Understanding on June 21. Three Hulse students – Mariam Abdulhamidkhon, Yaksh Patel and Reesha Tafseer – and three OJCS students – Jessica Ages, Talia Cherun and Ari Kotkowski – contributed to this report.

The 2017-2018 school year marked the 15th year that Grade 6 students from Charles H. Hulse Public School and the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) exchanged pen pal letters and then gathered at the end of the year for the annual Day of Cultural Understanding between our schools. It was a great opportunity for us to communicate and to learn about each other’s religions.

Hulse teacher Patrick Mascoe founded this program to let us know that it’s OK to be who we are and that we can build friendships with others. All the Grade 6 students – at both schools – were happy to be writing to people different from themselves. Just because someone is of a different religion, it doesn’t mean we can’t get along. We participate in this program so that we can appreciate who we really are. No one should ever be ashamed of who they really are.

On June 21, the OJCS students came to Hulse. We all met each other and got to know our pen pals in person.

One of the activities was an extraordinary scavenger hunt. We got into groups with our pen pals and started to look around the school property. We got some clues from our teachers (Ms. Khan, Mr. Mascoe, Mr. Brown and Ms. Thompson) and set off to find our answers. Our teams also had to work together to figure out the questions. Volunteers from Ridgemont High School were the judges. If any of our answers were incorrect, they would send us back out for the right ones. It took a lot of cooperation and perseverance to solve the questions. We had an amazing time running around finding the answers.

We also split into two teams for “Mascoe Ball,” a game that involves a large yoga ball and many smaller volleyballs. We were instructed to throw the volleyballs at the yoga ball to try to get it across the opposing team’s side. After much laughing and a few close calls, the game ultimately ended in a crosscourt basketball shootout!

It was extremely powerful and moving to hear from Holocaust survivor Elly Bollegraff. She shared her unique story of being a child during the Holocaust and having to leave her family to live with a non-Jewish family. As Jewish children, the OJCS students understand the value and importance of hearing these stories, and of sharing them. They thanked everyone at Hulse for welcoming them to their school and sharing this experience.

We hope that with more presentations like this and open talks about many other tragic events in history, we will begin to close the gap between cultures and to grow acceptance and community.

The whole experience of writing letters and meeting students from another school, which has different religions and other cultures was unforgettable. We think this tradition should continue forever. Although it was nerve-racking not knowing what our pen pals would be like and if we would get along, as soon as we met them it was as if we had been friends for a long time. We played many of the same games and shared many interests.

This was such an important experience for us kids. Since we live in such a small city, there should be even more opportunities to interact and learn together! We will never forget this day.

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