In an overnight field trip that attempted to “open a door of understanding” according to one fourth-grader, Salmonberry School’s fourth through sixth-grade classes punctuated their year-long multicultural studies with a perspective-altering inter-faith field trip which the students will remember for many years to come.
After spending the previous six months immersed in a deep exploration of many of the cultures and belief systems of the world, the students spent several hours in dialogue with each of several religious and community leaders in their respective places of worship in the Seattle metropolitan area. At each site, the conversation focused on some of the key elements in the practice of this faith? And how is this organization working towards building a culture of peace, tolerance and understanding in the Seattle community and around the world? Salmonberry’s head of school Paul Freedman said, “young learners must have visceral firsthand encounters to make learning meaningful. We embrace an experiential approach to ensure deeper learning that makes school both personally relevant and unforgettable. And at this particular historical moment, it seemed particularly critical to take our students out of our beautiful island oasis and meet some cultures and people who are less familiar.”
The first stop on this overnight trip to Seattle was Temple Beth Am, where the students met Rabbi Janine Schloss. They learned about some of the religious rituals, beliefs and community building practices of this congregation of reformed Jewish patrons.
Then it was on to the Idriss Mosque, the oldest mosque west of the Mississippi River, where the students met with Imam Mahmoud Aboueisha and an interpreter. They got to observe a call to prayer as well as a mid-day prayer service. The students explored with the Imam a wide range of subjects from the story of the Prophet Muhammad, to the mosque’s role as a social and cultural hub, as well as its mission to provide community service for homeless and hungry people in Seattle.
The next day, students arrived at the Sakya Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, where they learned and practiced a loving-kindness meditation. They learned about many symbols in the iconography of this elaborately decorated, ornate setting. They received a thorough tour of the large shrine room and learned about the history and practice of the Lamas who have founded and sustained this temple for the past 30 years.
Finally, students traveled to the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Bothell. Here they received a tour and learned about this complex polytheistic religion. They received blessings from Hindu Priest, Pt. Venkata Sridhar Parasaram and got to visit and learn about many of the Hindu deities. They watched observers in prayer, watched the ritualistic bathing of Vishnu and smelled the strong incense of this impressive place of worship.
In all the trip was an unforgettable learning adventure, one that definitely imparted a greater appreciation for the cultural and religious differences among people in our community and around the world, while also cementing a deeper understanding of the universal human traits we all share. As Chase Connell, age 10 wrote in his journal, “I think this trip is important because understanding each other and others’ religions can help make better friendships with more peace, love and compassion, where instead of hating one another for our differences, we love one another for our similarities”
Kiyomi Farish, 12, wrote, “I think this is an important step towards peace … we are children and haven’t been conditioned to think a certain way … we are learning everyday patience, kindness and tolerance. [Experiences like this] help us bridge the gap.”