Mini flags waved triumphantly in the stands of Milton Elementary School’s gymnasium last Friday as children chanted in support of countries around the world.

As the Pyeongchang Olympics neared its closing ceremonies, Milton teachers looked to educate their students on the world’s diversity. Each class chose a country to research, and students studied their respective country’s flag and then wore its colors to school on Friday.

In the back left corner of the bleachers, Jamaica was well represented as kids stomped their feet in unison in a sea of green, black and yellow. On the floor, kindergarteners adorned construction paper Olympic hats, and second-graders waved handmade United Kingdom flags while others showcased their red, blue and black drawings of South Korea’s flag.

But the real excitement came once English language learning teacher Stephanie Teleen silenced the crowd and welcomed the flag-bearers of 16 countries — all nations to which Milton students have familial ties — into the gym, one by one.

Students with cultural connections to Bhutan, Bosnia, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Nepal, Palestine, Peru, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam entered the gymnasium to mass applause as their cultures were recognized and celebrated. 

“My parents were born in Bosnia. I’ve never been there personally, but it’s kind of like a nice thing for me to represent my country,” student and Bosnian flag bearer Asja Pasic said. “My parents had to come here in the middle of the war while they were my age. And every time they tell me that story, it’s kind of sad. But it felt good to hold the flag in front of the kindergarten through fifth grade.”

Pre-schoolers also joined the festivities to see Asja, her sister, Lajla and fellow Bosnian classmate Lilliana Messier-Blow proudly showcase their flag.

Then there was student Salama Abdullahi, who said walking in with the Ugandan flag made her feel “proud and happy” because she has family from the East African nation.

A class chants for Jamaica. (PHOTO: KAYLEE SULLIVAN)

All 16 flags, plus the Abenaki flag, will soon adorn the walls of the MES gymnasium. Small strings of world flags also stretch across the ceilings of the MES cafeteria.

Teleen applied for grant funding for the flags because she said many other schools do similar displays and Milton was missing out. When students don’t see their country or culture represented, it can often make them feel invisible, she said.

“Recognizing their cultures and having flags displayed as part of your permanent environment is so important for students to see their cultures displayed and feel proud,” Teleen said.

The school-wide ceremony also brought second-graders to the main stage as they presented what it means to “bee ready to learn” — one of MES’ behavior expectations from its Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system.

Students sang a “buzz” song about the lesson, which mentioned eating good food and being well rested. Other tips from teachers included getting to school on time and being mindful in the classroom.

Going along with the Olympics theme, a video also played portraying “gold medal learners” who wore medals as they packed their backpacks with essential materials. Students also took part in a mindfulness exercise.

Once Milton’s Olympians trickled out of the gym, they headed for the high school to watch Milton Middle School’s production of “Annie.”

All in all, one thing’s for sure: MES students were buzzing with excitement, culture and activity last Friday.

Editor’s note: Our original article misidentified the Jamaican flag as the Brazilian flag. We regret the error.