The winter 2011 International Night at Odyssey Charter School had it all: a fantastic turnout, delicious food, and lots of fun, all tied to the curriculum. The educational family event earned the Newnan, Ga., PTO the award for Outstanding Outreach to a Multicultural Parent Base in PTO Today’s 2011 Parent Group of the Year search.

While lounging at her neighborhood pool one day, parent Jennifer Petrino came up with the idea of holding an international night. She was struck by all the languages she heard, including French, Greek, and Lebanese. “I didn’t think of our community as diverse but, really, it is,” says Petrino, whose family has Italian roots.

Petrino envisioned an event at the school that would get kids excited to learn about different cultures. PTO President Monique Haskins loved the idea. “As a parent, you want your children to realize there are so many cultures out there,” Haskins says. The principal was also on board. He invited the moms to pitch the idea to teachers at a faculty meeting. Teachers said the event would fit naturally into the curriculum because the theme for the year was about global awareness. A date was set for early February.

More than 200 of the school’s 270 K-8 students attended the event with their family members, learning about other cultures through food, costumes, music, and displays.

Each class chose a country located in an assigned continent. Iran, Norway, Haiti, Armenia, Chile, Greenland, and Bermuda were among the countries represented. The art teacher had a great idea: The displays would not identify the country. Students had to figure it out.

Students received a passport and moved from display to display getting the passport stamped. They gamely tried new foods, though Haskins’ son made a face when he bit into a Greek olive. A Chinese cultural group provided entertainment in honor of the recent Chinese New Year.

The only challenge organizers encountered was making room for the unexpectedly high turnout. “We planned everything without knowing it would be such a hit,” Petrino says.

What the judges loved: Students prepared for the event with classroom activities that tied in with the state curriculum. Also impressive was the broad participation, including teachers and administrators as well as students and parents.

Cool fact: Organizers wanted a charitable component to the event. In keeping with the international theme, the PTO chose Heifer International, which provides livestock to people in need around the world. Classes competed in a penny war to raise money in the two weeks leading up to the night, raising $1,180.