PolyCultura: A Celebration of Diversity Through The Art of Storytelling & Connection

Through the art of storytelling, members of the Poly community came together at the inaugural PolyCultura Lower School event where personal stories painted a multidimensional picture of people we may see daily at our school, but whom we now may see in a new light with new understanding and a feeling of connection and empathy. The power of authentic stories like the ones shared by parents, faculty, and staff, are at the center of building an inclusive community, where everyone is welcome.


PolyCultura was an opportunity to “get to know somebody in the community in a new way,” said Head of Lower School Dr. Francis Yasharian. In video presentations, members of the Poly Lower School community shared life-changing personal stories about people or experiences that made a difference in their lives.

Poly parents had created a two-part program for the annual Lower School diversity event, PolyCultura, which is the reimagined Passport to Poly. The program featured an in-school artist workshop for students and an at-home video premiere via Zoom on February 26 for families and community members.

“Our hope is that, over time, the stories we tell—in all their forms—connect and uplift us as a community.”

PolyCultura 2021 Co-Chairs Nancy Bulalacao P’33 and Tene Raymond P’31, ’33 explained that the videos consisted of the stories gleaned from conversations over many weeks and were documented on video over one weekend. “There are stories about loved ones, hardship, luck, and perseverance,” they said. “Our hope is that, over time, the stories we tell—in all their forms—connect and uplift us as a community.”

Art Projects with Jaiko Suzuki

Jaiko Suzuki PolyCultura
Jaiko Suzuki

All Lower School students participated in an art project with guest artist Jaiko Suzuki,  a musician and performance artist, who creates intricate artworks using fermented vegetables. A recorded Zoom interview with her was shared with the classes during the week. In the interview, she talked about the process of making each piece. Students incorporated what they learned into their own artworks using textured paper. In the interview, Suzuki emphasized that her meditation before making her art work is key to its beauty. Meditating helps her quiet all the ‘noise’ so that she can listen to what her heart tells her is beautiful. She told the children that they could spend time thinking about what they think is beautiful separate from any outside influence. 

Suzuki described her work: “On mornings when I can, I take out my fermented vegetables out of rice bran bed and make a plate as a part of meditation. Rice bran fermentation is a traditional Japanese technique called Nukazuke. It requires daily attention to keep the balance of bacteria in the rice bran bed healthy. I started my own Nukazuke bed in April 2020.” 

Grade 1 Head Teacher Bette Soto said, “In our class the children watched the interview with Jaiko, meditated, and then created their own plates. Jaiko’s creations are made with food. We used mosaic tiles, tissue paper, and construction paper.”

Here are some examples of the children’s Jaiko Suzuki-inspired student artwork. (For more, families may visit the Parent Portal to access the PolyCultura website.)

PolyCultura Jaiko Suzuki art
Art inspired by Jaiko Suzuki (PolyCultura)
Art inspired by Jaiko Suzuki (PolyCultura)
Art inspired by Jaiko Suzuki (PolyCultura)
Art inspired by Jaiko Suzuki (PolyCultura)
Art inspired by Jaiko Suzuki (PolyCultura)

On Friday, February 26, Nancy Bulalacao P’33 and Tene Raymond P’31, ’33 held a live Q & A with Suzuki for the whole Lower School. They also sent home kits with instructions on how to do a simple pickling so that families can create their own artwork at home together. 

The co-chairs explained, “The title PolyCultura is derived from the agricultural term that means to grow many different types in the same soil. For PolyCultura’s inaugural year we felt that Jaiko’s generations-old fermentation process and work with vegetables was a lovely piece of synergy.” 

PolyCultura Video Program: Personal Stories of Perseverance, Gratitude, and Following One’s Dreams

Head of Lower School Dr. Francis Yasharian welcomed everyone to the evening webinar. He said that the 21 video interviews featured “very personal stories” of people who influenced them, made a difference, life-changing experiences, or decisions to do the right thing under very difficult circumstances.

Dr. Yasharian thanked Kimberly Davis Rivizzigno, Lower School Family Engagement and Community Life Dean of Students for her work organizing the event and Stacy Hunter P’15, Director of Lower School Technology, who created the PolyCultura website.

Dr. Yasharian also thanked Nancy Bulalacao P’33 and Tene Raymond P’31, ’33, the “two amazing women who took on the celebration before we knew about the pandemic.”

Featured speakers in the evening videos included: Head of Lower School Dr. Francis Yasharian, Jerome Thomas P’31, ‘33, Minya Oh P’33, Natasha Goddard P’33, Ken Leung P’33, Kindergarten Head Teacher Kim Davis, Pre-K Head Teacher Olugbala Williams, Liza Bennett P’33, Security Officer Xerxes Vizcaino, Associate Head of School, Enrollment Management and Student Outcomes Kyle Graham, Director of Annual Giving Opeyemi Laniyonu, Joshua Dubin P’28, ‘30, ‘34, Assistant Head of School, Strategic Initiatives Rebekah Sollitto P’29, ‘32, Kobla Asamoah P’28, ‘31, Nancy Bulalacao P’33, Andre Benjamin P’30, Tasha Richards P’26, ‘29, ‘31, ‘33, Uma Mantravadi P’33, Head of Middle School Andre Del Valle P’29, ’33, Melissa Downing P’32, ‘34, ‘35, and Vanessa Cantave P’32.

“This is who we are here at Poly Prep,” said Dr. Yasharian in introducing the stories.

The videos produced for PolyCultura were billed as “a celebration of the diversity that we all bring to Poly.” One video was for viewing by the entire family and the other was described as having mature themes. Each person sharing a story was seated with no distracting background. It was as though each was speaking to just one person from the heart. A number of stories described what it was like for families to come to this country from India, or Nigeria, or the Caribbean and for parents to have to start over in careers and learn a new language, and for their children to adapt to a new culture and school. Sometimes this was as simple but heartfelt as keeping the identity that comes from one’s name.

There were stories of resilience, forgiveness, and challenges met and overcome.  The tough love of a teacher caused one then-high school student to feel that she was capable and belonged.  Family struggle was a common theme when a parent left the family or died and someone made all the difference by stepping into a child’s life as a mentor or provider of educational opportunity. A cancer diagnosis overcome with support of loved ones and the love of a caregiver for a small child changed lives forever. Other stories recounted helping to give a second chance to someone in prison for decades, taking a stand in the workplace for what’s right, finding a way to carry on a parent’s fight for justice, and simply learning to be comfortable being alone.

“Our objective is simple, ” said Raymond about the event on the PolyCultura site, it’s for us to “come together, listen to each other’s stories, and savor the dynamic flavors of our seen and unseen diversity.”

“We hope that you see the truth in each person’s story, that it touches you in some way. And that over the years we’ll come to share so many stories that when we see each other, what we see first is what we have in common rather than what keeps us apart,” said Bulalacao.

Families may access the videos and other content from PolyCultura by logging into the Parent Portal.