County multicultural institute broadens teachers’ horizons

“That thing on your head.”

The topic alone drew 24 women to a workshop at Prince William County school division’s ninth annual Multicultural Summer Institute. The series of 22 workshops began Monday and will continue through Thursday.

Prince William School employees who attended the institute at Forest Park Senior High School wandered into workshops such as Negar Nahidian’s.

Nahidian was born in Tehran, Iran and came to the United States when she was 5 years old. She wore a blue scarf tied around her head, called a hijab. Through her artwork, she related her experiences of wearing the headpiece worn by Muslim women.

Nahidian is a part-time digital arts instructor at George Mason University and a freelance graphic designer.

Hanging from the ceiling was a blurred image of a woman wearing a black dress that hung to her knees. The woman’s hair was about shoulder-length and she was not wearing a hijab.

“I’m going to create this piece just to show we’re all the same underneath,” Nahidian told those sitting in a circle around her.

Nahidian called her display of artwork “mistranslation,” because she believes the word “hijab” has been mistranslated among Muslims and non-Muslims, she said.

“It’s not like what the media makes it to be,” Nahidian said.

Nahidian wanted to emphasize the hijab is “not a means of separation,” she said. Nahidian wears a hijab because she chooses to. She and her mother are the only members in her family that wear a hijab, she told the group. Nahidian pointed out the religious and cultural views toward wearing a hijab.

“I think it’s eternal, the way you carry yourself,” she said.

About 650 to 700 people attended the events Monday, said Nancy Lyall, administrative coordinator for Prince William schools office of multicultural education.

“The purpose is that we want our teachers to teach from a multicultural perspective,” she said.

Maryann Shields has been attending the summer institute for seven of nine years it’s been offered, she said. Shields taught third grade at Occoquan Elementary School for the past 14 years. In the fall, Shields will teach at Pattie Elementary School.

“They give you materials and ideas for instruction,” Shields said.

Shields dug into her purse to pull out a manual she received from workshop entitled “What Should You Teach About Latinos?”

“It’s a multicultural area so we need to do this,” she said of Prince William County. “This is fun for teachers,” Shields exclaimed.

Karenne Wood, a member of the Monacan Nation Tribe in Virginia, presented a workshop: “Virginia Indian Peoples: History and Contemporary Issues.”

“Resources are not really available for teachers to teach kids about Indians in Virginia,” Wood said after the workshop.

Workshops will continue today. On Wednesday, participants will go on field trips to sites including Baltimore, Manassas, Fauquier County and museums in Washington, D.C. The events are free for Prince William employees. The cost is $40 per day for out-of-county participants.