Paradise Elementary embraces Ukrainian heritage for Literacy Days

By Mark Squibb/February 24, 2023

Two Paradise Elementary teachers recently conspired to stage a performance for Family Literacy Day that would embrace two different cultures represented by the school’s student body.

“The theme for this year’s literacy day was ‘Celebrate Your Heritage,’ and we have just over 60 new Ukrainian students here in the school, so we have two different heritages to represent — our Canadian heritage, and our Ukrainian heritage,” explained Kelly Thorne, who teaches music, including the school’s Ukrainian choirs. “And Karen Templeman had asked me if we could ask someone to come in to sing or put off a show to help celebrate these heritages. And that’s what we did.”

Karen Templeman is the school’s reading specialist. She is also responsible for promoting literacy within the school community.

“Literacy is not just books, and print, literacy is also music,” said Templeman. “Music actually is a good way to help move literacy along. So, for the concert, we looked for a Newfoundland performer and a Ukrainian performer so that we could bring the two cultures together and celebrate that way.”

Templeman and Thorne were able to find two such performers— Oksana Korobko and Terry Reilly.

“We had a great a little show here,” said Templeman.

Kindergarten through Grade 2 students watched a morning performance, while older students watched an afternoon performance.

Korobko, playing musical bells native to her homeland, sang a Ukraine song, the tune of which each and everyone one reading this story has likely heard a hundred times before but never knew originated in Ukraine. 

‘Shchedryk’ was written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914 as a New Year’s carol. The lyrics tell the story of a swallow flying into a household to inform the master of great blessings unfolding and great wealth to come.

It was adapted for English listeners in 1936, with Peter J. Wilhousky rewriting the tune as the more familiar ‘Carol of the Bells.’

Ukrainian students joined Korobko to sing it for their peers.

“There was no hesitation on the part of the Ukrainian children whatsoever,” said Templeman. “They were thrilled to get up there and sing.”

The school boasts a Ukrainian population of roughly 60 students, a number that remains in flux — recently, a few students transferred to another school while other students moved in take their place.

“Our children are very much embracing the Ukraine children,” said Thorne. “They have made them very welcome from the beginning. It creates a warm and positive atmosphere when you see the children coming together and helping one another. When we’re on duty, say in a part of the building where we don’t necessarily know all the children, our Paradise Elementary students are very quick to let the teachers on duty know, ‘This student is Ukrainian,’ and they’ll let us know how much English they can speak, or cannot speak. They help them out, and they help the teacher out. It’s really heartwarming.”

The influx of students bumped the school’s enrolment to about 550, and the school had to hire additional teachers to meet the demand.

Thorne and Templeman say regardless of culture, children are children, and they love to play.

“Right now, the children who are here are living in hotels, and I can’t imagine they have a whole lot of toys in their hotel room that they have access to,” said Templeman. “So, when they come to school it’s a place where they can enjoy themselves, with all the resources the classroom has.”

Due to the variability of housing arrangements, teachers are not sure if students will remain at the school for the remainder of the year, or if they may be moved elsewhere.

“For now, we’re going to do what we can with them while we have them. And they’re very welcome here,” said Thorne.

Paradise Elementary is also home to children from Nigeria and Southeast Asia.

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