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Multilingual Families Create and Connect at Family Art Day

The art of community was in the air and on display on May 7 as multilingual families from across District 97 gathered together to paint, sculpt, draw, and talk with one another at the first-ever Multilingual Family Art Day. 

The event took place at the centrally-located Oak Park Public Library, where District 97 art teachers led families in the creation of a collaborative family painting using large watercolor paper, and a twisted tree sculpture that served as a symbol for putting down roots.

Families moved to different art-making stations run by District 97 art and multilingual teacher volunteers, who also served as interpreters and translators. There, they had a chance to make art while meeting and interacting with families who spoke the same language as them but whose students attended different schools. 

Longfellow art teacher Jenny Raia came up with the idea for the event after conversations with Holmes multilingual teacher Jenn Jaros got her thinking more deeply about the experiences of multilingual students and families in District 97 schools. A Ukrainian refugee family had recently moved in on the block where Raia lives in Oak Park, too, and at the same time she was participating in the National Education Association’s Leaders for Just Schools program, which asks educators to examine their role in their community and seek ways to promote equity and opportunity for all students.

“When thinking of opportunities to build community and a sense of belonging among all of our multilingual families, I landed on the idea of a Family Art Day,” Raia said. 

To make the event a success, Raia leaned on the expertise and generosity of her art teacher colleagues, as well as that of Jaros, the multilingual teacher team, and Multilingual and Multicultural Parent Advisory Committee (MPAC), who helped with family outreach. It was truly a family affair–Raia’s mother and Jaros’ mother ran the hospitality table and offered coffee, tea, fruit and muffins to the dozen families who attended. 

The event was funded through an Illinois Education Association Score Grant, which allowed Raia to purchase art supplies for the art-making stations, as well as sketchbooks, canvas bags and other art supplies that were given to families so they could continue making art together as a family, or with their new friends, after the event.

For Raia, events like the Multilingual Family Art Day provide an opportunity for families who may not otherwise meet one another to connect.

“There are so many amazing people and resources in this community and people are really invested in one another,” Raia said. “We definitely want to do it again.”

Photos courtesy of District 97 parent Josh Tatro.