Middle School Celebrates Festival of Lights

The religious celebrations of India may seem a world away from our little town of Los Olivos. But each fall in Kellyn Allavie's Middle School Humanities classes, students learn about Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.

The celebration is part of a curricular section on eastern philosophies and religions, which teaches students about the contexts and cultures of Asia. The focus on Diwali in particular engages students in the history and celebration of a major holiday that is observed by one billion people around the world.

As part of the lesson, she decorates her classroom in lights and prayer flags. When students arrive, she draws them into discussions about the history of the holiday, its roots in Indian culture, and leads them in art projects coloring mandalas and making 'rangoli' — geometric designs made with colored rice.

Before coming to Dunn, Kellyn taught at an international school in Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia. When she returned to the U.S., she thought that Asian culture should be included in American curriculum. So she developed a section that introduces students to eastern philosophies and the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism, which combined represents nearly twenty percent of the world's population.

The Diwali celebration, she explains, was a matter of coincidence. She usually begins the section around the time of the year when Diwali usually falls.

"But we're about a week late this year," she says. "Diwali was on October 19, but scheduling prevented us from celebrating last week."

"It's important that students are exposed to cultures other than their own," she continues. "Maybe my students won't remember all the details of Hinduism from a 6th-grade unit, but now they have a memory attached to Diwali which they can draw as they learn more about world religions and cultures through their school years."