NORTHRIDGE : School's Heritage Museum Helps Increase Cultural Awareness

Nine-year-old Harout Kavoukjian shuffled and hopped around a Darby Avenue Elementary School classroom Tuesday to demonstrate some traditional Armenian dances his relatives still perform during family gatherings.

"It's hard to dance with these shoes," he complained, frustrated by the grip his camping boots had on the room's tile floors. Besides, "it's embarrassing to do it in front of Americans. They don't know what you're doing."

In an effort to enlighten others of their own backgrounds and to gain an understanding of the diverse cultures represented at Darby, Harout and his fellow fourth-grade classmates assembled a "heritage museum" on campus using artworks, musical instruments and common utensils collected from their homes.

Since the museum was opened in March, students from all grades at Darby have been studying the backgrounds of their schoolmates to increase cultural awareness.

Representing the diversity of Darby's student body were such cultural keepsakes as a Russian matrushka doll, a ceremonial mask from Kenya made to ward off evil spirits and a Polynesian toere drum used during traditional luaus.

After attending a seminar called "Student to Student Interaction," where students from throughout the Los Angeles school district convene annually to discuss their cultural differences, teacher Barry Inoue's class initiated the idea of a heritage museum on campus and it was soon embraced by the school. "They wanted to see for themselves what other cultures had to offer," Inoue said.

For instance, the "eyes of God" knits from Mexico and the Russian matrushka dolls are used by families in both countries to bring good luck into the household.

Other items on display carried religious tales of rebirth and redemption, while others simply spoke of remembering. Nine-year-old Megan Hartman, for instance, brought in a bundle of baby clothes handed down from her great-grandparents.

"I used to wear these clothes," she said. "My grandmother gave them to my mother; my mother gave them to me and I'll pass them on to my daughter."

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