Did you know that famous artist John James Audubon immigrated from France to Louisville, that Thomas Merton wrote wrote The Seven Storey Mountain from his hermitage The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Kentucky? Kentucky Heritage Day teaches us this and so much more. The quintessential integrated, interdisciplinary learning experience, 4th graders combine their study of Kentucky history with a study of their own family heritage. The day of performance is a culmination, a lesson in courage, and a celebration of this deep dive into who we all are.

If you haven’t been to the Kentucky Heritage Day performance, it is difficult to know its impact on the children and their families. This year in particular was a powerful event. The parents of a 4th grade student had to miss her performance in order to attend their own naturalization ceremony in Frankfort. While their daughter performed in her beautiful Indian heritage dress, they became U.S. citizens.

They watched the performance LIVE on Facebook, and they sent this email [excerpt] the next day:

Yesterday was a very special day for us. After having lived in this country for 18 years, I was given the privilege of living my future life as a citizen of this great country. It’s a day our family will never forget.
Yesterday, we were naturalized at a ceremony where we felt welcome by the U.S. government, the guests and the public that was twice the number of new citizens, and right here at The Lexington School. 

I lack the appropriate words to describe our heartfelt joy, gratitude, and appreciation for what happened at the Kentucky Heritage Day event. You paused the celebration to acknowledge the significance of this day in our life. That was followed by a spontaneous applause by TLS families. Those few seconds brought tears to our eyes. We felt that our naturalization was attended in spirit by the entire TLS family. Thank you for the lovely memory that will be cherished forever by all of us.

It all starts in the fall with a trip to back in time to Fort Boonesboro, Kentucky where students become a part of pioneer living history. They learn the loom, how to forge iron for tools and horses, and what clothing and foods were available and how they were worn and prepared.

Back home, to the library they go for more research on Kentucky history. In computer class, students use their combined research and graphic design skills to create Kentucky Heritage brochures in “Publisher.”

Where I'm FromLanguage Arts facilitates a deeper, creative look at themselves with character narratives and poetry inspired by Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” poetry collaborative. Students then convey their thoughts as parts of collaged silhouettes completed in art class.  These works of art hold special interests and memories unique to each student in addition to an element of family history and heritage. 

Family TreeIn art and science classes, students learn about native trees and forests; they learn to draw trees with perspective, and that same tree grows into a tree of their own ancestry.

Even in P.E. classes, Kentucky heritage comes to life as students learn various dances that range from “The Virginia Reel” and polka to the South African “Pata-Pata.”

Virginia ReelLast but not least, there is music class where students weave together the songs and story of the Kentucky and American immigrant experience, they dress in the costumes of their own family’s origin, and for the final Kentucky Heritage Day celebration, they make food that represents their ancestry’s unique culture.

This way of teaching and learning makes connections that last well beyond this fourth grade year.  As Thomas Merton once wrote: “Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

Click HERE for a full gallery of photos from Kentucky Heritage Day.

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