Project Neighborly: Tea for thirty-two times two

Neighborliness is about getting together in a special way. 

Tea is always an occasion. But high tea for 32 Lummi Island schoolchildren and their elder neighbors on Valentine’s Day? That’s a full-fledged party with hats, gloves, mustaches and manners. The event, along with the pen-pal relationships that led up to it, was supported by a Foundation Project Neighborly grant. It’s a joint project between the ladies of the 100-year-old-Lummi Island Civic Improvement Club and the staff at the 96-year-old Beach School, led by school manager Kathy Thurber.

The “Friendship Tea” reshapes a tradition established decades ago, when the school used to host the “Friendship Tea” as a thank you to Civic Club, which has supported the school financially and otherwise over the last 50 years. Then and now, the tea gives children a chance to practice inviting and entertaining guests. “We believe it takes a village to raise the children of Lummi Island,” explains Thurber. “As the smallest International Baccalaureate School in the world, our focus is on preparing our students to be productive world citizens. Being good neighbors in the world means beginning this process close to home.

As the students go about their day, the ladies prepare. They are serious, wise in the proper way to do things.  They want to share what they value with their younger neighbors. And their younger neighbors seem eager to find out…

Before entering the tea, students dress up, momentarily transformed into grown-ups like their elegant hosts.

The pen paling and tea is part learning, part bridge building between generations and strangers. Students practice social and writing skills, meet neighbors, understand traditions, share gifts, compare school experiences, and, most of all create positive relationships in a community that has changed enough over the last decade that the elders feel disconnected and unfamiliar with all the new faces. Most of the students at Beach do not have extended families on the Island— in fact, a third of them commute from off-island.

And then it’s over. A day that will be remembered for new friendships, lovely conversation, and pickle sandwiches with no crust.

Photos courtesy of Alan Friedlob

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