There are dreamers and there are doers. Elizabeth Straton, a tall, vibrant musician who Islanders might remember from her concerts in the 90s at Wintertide, Katharine Cornell Theatre, and Featherstone for the Arts is in the latter category, and she is back on the Island in West Tisbury after travels and adventures that have made her a citizen of the world. And it is that mindset that has inspired Ms. Straton to make an offering of another kind to Islanders.
While in Mallorca with her husband, a former bullfighter, their children Suzanne (7) and Cary (6) were born. While Ms. Straton entertained in local venues, the children were often cared for by the elderly women of the village. Exposed to French, Italian, Arabic, and Spanish influences, both mother and children returned to the United States enriched.
Ms. Straton is determined to keep assimilating cultures through music and art. More than that, she is adamant in her belief that children will grow more tolerant of diversity if exposed to each other's culturally different everyday habits. She says, "When kids are immersed in several languages, they learn there is no one way of doing things."
A multi-lingual language teacher, Ms. Straton teaches Spanish at the Charter School in West Tisbury. She credits regional high school Spanish teacher Lynn Ditchfield (a bit of a legend in her own right) for encouraging her to weave drama and music into the teaching of languages.
And now Ms. Straton has implemented a way of expanding on her philosophy, and bringing it to Island children.
She has created an after-school program designed to present various everyday customs from different cultures and practicing the simple blending of life-styles. The sessions will be part of the children's programs offered at Featherstone Center for the Arts.
In addition to role-playing. Ms. Straton's class will include singing and dancing activities. Along with her guitar and piano, she will bring a trunk-load of ideas and props from abroad. Hoping to expose her young students to a new culture each month, including portions of their languages, she will introduce a variety of traditions: a Japanese tea ceremony, a Chinese New Year Fan Dance, an Andalusian harvest festival, and fishermen's songs from France.
"Here in the United States, we limit our understanding by using only the English language," she says, adding if the children learn one new word from a different country each month, she will be pleased.
By creating a fun-filled atmosphere, the children will figuratively get to walk in the shoes of children in far off places.
Ms. Straton, who grew up in Warwick, New York, in an artistic family, is confident that the Vineyard is the perfect atmosphere for this kind of after-school program. She feels we are less judgmental than other communities. With eight children per class, meeting twice a week for 45-minute periods, from September to June, she expects her students to have a broader vocabulary and a sharper interest in children from around the world.
To register for "Culture Classes," contact Elizabeth Straton, email@example.com or call 1-845-987-4254 for details and schedules. Classes are limited to eight children. $20 per class, per child. $32 for two weekly classes. Classes on Mondays and Thursdays after school from Sept. through June.
Liza Coogan is an artist and writer who lives in Vineyard Haven.