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Diwali is now a day off in Acton/Boxborough schools!

Jodi Tor Dak Shune Keu Na Ase Tobe Ekla Cholo Re. – Tagore

[If no one responds to your call, then go your own way alone]

While I have often walked alone, let me tell you how much more powerful and empowering it is, when you surround yourself with people who believe in your vision. Good people do good work. And they walk with you, making the journey so much better! Its simple.

My ask was also simple : If we take pride in living in a diverse community, we have to be willing to do the work to support its diverse residents. Diwali should be a day off in schools so we can celebrate joyfully and restfully in our community.

On Dec. 14th, 2017 I attended the School Committee meeting asking them to recognize Diwali as a holiday and giving the day off. They agreed to list the names of all the religious holidays on the 2nd page of the school calendar but not the day off. To learn more about that process, click here. In 2021, seeing that our district is moving towards Equity, I wrote to the school committee again on November 6th asking them to reconsider giving Diwali a day off. On Dec. 2nd I attended the first reading of the proposed school calendar. On Dec. 16th, 2021 the Acton/Boxborough school committee voted unanimously to not only put Diwali and other religious holidays on the calendar but to give the day off.

The 4 year journey of appealing to the Acton/Boxborough School Committee would have been even longer if I didn’t have the guidance and support of these good people. It is important to me to acknowledge and recognize these amazing humans because they inspire me and I share this in the hope that they may inspire others.

Sunanda Pepalla, my journey began with your nudge! Thank you for showing me the ropes and helping me with the petition back in 2017. For being my sounding board and for showing up then and now! Thank you for your commitment to our towns and your badassery! Brinda Vokkarane, gosh, where do I even begin. From my last minute call for help back in 2017 and how you showed up on that frigid evening and man you SHOWED up with bells and whistles in 2021. Thank you for your outreach to so many groups in town. Archana, you are my OG supporter. You took me to my first town meeting and inspired me to get involved. Thank you for kindness and patience over numerous chai sessions and brainstorming with me. I appreciate your wisdom and our chats more than you know. I mean it when I say this, this is OUR moment and this could NOT have happened without either of you.

My amazing friends Katherine Lee Elizabeth Olson Catherine Conway Lucienne Joan Luke Shana Dumont Garr thank you for writing to the school committee and for tirelessly supporting me in all my causes! Kyra Wilson Cook I appreciate all that you do for our town but I value our friendship even more so! Thank you for asking to include not just the holidays but their names and significance! This means the world to me.

My biggest moment of pride and gratitude came when I saw these three kids speak at the school committee sharing their traditions and asking for a day off so they can restfully enjoy this holiday. It is because of these kids that I kept on going. They give me so much hope. Thank you Rohan, Abhijay and Suravi. You are amazing! I am also so proud of Dia who wrote to the school committee in her own words.

To the 34 people to whom I wrote, shared my journey and asked for help, thank you for allowing me the space in your inbox. For giving me the confidence that I could write to you. There are so many others who wrote to the SC and showed up at the meeting. I don’t know you personally but your support is appreciated. Thank you!

This post is getting so long and I am starting to sound like someone who has just won a pageant! So in true pageant form I thank my father Ram Prakash who is my biggest advocate and to whom this means more than you can ever imagine. I am who I am today because of him. Finally, Gagan Prakash for helping me sort through my thoughts. The biggest job of all 🙂You get the best and the worst of me. Love you!

I will end this post by sharing what my dad sent me when I told him that we did it!

“When you work for others all celestial bodies join you in a good cause”.

YOU all are those bodies. We did it, together.

How I got the public school district in my town to recognize Diwali as a holiday.

To my darling daughter Dia,

I know you are only 7 years old but I already know that you are destined to do great things. So, when years from now if you are ever filled with self-doubt or if you take on a project which seems impossible but you still want to charge ahead, GO FOR IT!  If you believe in something and the cause is worthy, I will be your biggest advocate and supporter. Today I feel like a winner because a process which seemed impossible at the time and took so long to accomplish, finally happened and I want to tell you how I made it happen.

Here are some facts on how Diwali was put on the Acton-Boxborough school calendar. It was a process which took almost a year and a whole lot of effort.

It all started in September 2017 when I saw that schools were closed for Rosh Hashanah. I was curious to learn more about that holiday and as you know we learned the proper way to greet people that day. That’s right – Shana Tova! That’s when I thought – Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if more people knew about Diwali and we got the day off to celebrate the proper way. I decided to do something about it.

Later that month, I started a petition to appeal to the School District.

It got more than 200 signatures from families in both the towns in less than a week.

On Dec 14th 2017, I attended the school committee meeting where the committee was discussing the school calendar and appealed to them in person why it was important to recognize Diwali in our school district. The recording is here. See after 1:45. I talked about why in a diverse town like Acton it is important to recognize not just Jewish but other religious holidays like Diwali. We need to be truly inclusive! You see, when a holiday is recognized on the school calendar it is such a positive step towards including members of the community to whom that day is special. Festival of lights is celebrated all around the world so why not in Acton?

After much deliberation they agreed that they will put the holiday on the calendar along with some other religious holidays for the 2018-2019 calendar.

However that was NEVER implemented.

Then I started a series of countless e-mails. The last 6-months have been spent in discussing this with the school committee and urging them to add it to the calendar and make the holiday policies clear. It was important for me to bring this to fruition to the best of my ability.

On July 25th I met with the superintendent Peter Light to discuss this matter in depth and how important it is to include this holiday on the school calendar and what it means for the families who celebrate this. I wanted to make sure that this is implemented before the start of the school in September 2018.  I gave them examples of towns which clearly state the homework and days off policies on religious holidays. He assured me that he will get together with principals of all schools and come up with a plan.

August rolled around and I kept emailing with them until I finally saw it on the calendar!

On August 9th, I threw a celebratory party at my house and invited the whole town!

Chai and Samosa Party

August 9th 5 PM

Early November, the district sent an email out to all the teachers and residents that November 7th is Diwali and no homework and tests will be scheduled for Nov. 8th. While still not a day off, it was a step in the right direction.

I have always loved sharing our culture with everyone and this year was no exception. I went to the school to talk about Diwali and share a treat and a craft.

This year was even more special because of inclusion of Diwali on the calendar it was no longer something people had never heard of.  The kids in  Dia’s class at MCT painted clay DIYAS and got to take them home.

We were pleasantly surprised to even see a Diwali inspired menu in the school cafeteria that day.  It was a good day!

Many parents wrote to me how nice it was for their kids (and them) to learn about this Festival of Lights. Some of them lit on their dinner tables that night.

What’s the next step for me?

I will be appealing to the school district this year for a day off on Diwali next year. Many families tell me because the schools are not off that day, they celebrate Diwali on the weekend. My question to whoever is reading this – Can you imagine holding off celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas until the following weekend?

Update- November, 2021 – After ignoring that voice in my head for more than 3 years, I wrote to the school committee again and in Dec. 2021 the school committee finally voted to give the day off for Diwali starting 2022. Read more here.

Happy Diwali!

Festival of Lights – That’s what Diwali is. It stands for victory of good over evil, return of hope, forgiveness, health and prosperity and a new beginning. Each year on Diwali we cook up a traditional Indian meal, light the Diyas (little earthern lamps with wick and oil), do the Pooja (prayer) and write our yearly diary. That’s the fun part of having your own family. You set your own traditions. Writing a family diary is not a traditional thing but my father always did so I started doing it after I got married. It’s the most fun part (other than eating of course!, did I say that we are confirmed foodies!) of the day. In the dairy we write names of family and friends who attended the pooja this year, any major events which happened in the past year, any new addition to the family (Sadly we haven’t been able to write about a baby for a while 😦 ). We then read the pages from all the past years and reflect upon them.

We have a small family consisting of Gagan and I, his brother and his wife and his youngest brother. For me it means the world to be able to celebrate it with them! Everyone is trying to get off work a little early so we can be together.

I miss my parents a lot on this day but I am a firm believer in making the best of every situation and enjoy my time with my family here!

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