ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – The first day of February marks World Hijab Day, a day meant to recognize the millions of women who wear the religious head covering and bring about better awareness and greater understanding. The event got its start locally 7 years ago inside a classroom at the Rochester City School District. Since then, it has only gotten bigger.

The day was originally created in 2013 in an effort to invite women to experience hijab for a day and spread awareness as to why hijab is worn by so many women. In 2016, Rochester City School ESL teacher, Kelly Lalonde brought the event to school Number 58.

“These events show me that I did something and that it matters,” Lalonde said.

While this should have been an exciting time, Lalonde claims some community members misinterpreted the meaning behind the event and spread false notions about what was being asked of students.

“The response from specific communities, mainly anti-Muslim communities was super negative. It meant that we had to have security at school, it meant that we were in lockdown for various days, there were threats coming from outside that the police had to investigate,” Lalonde said.

Still though, Lalonde and her students persisted. They continued hosting the event every year after. Though as time has gone on, the event has gotten smaller for a reason Lalonde says is a good thing.

“It feels a little disappointing years later that we don’t have as many people wearing hijab in the hallway, or we don’t see as many people who are super interested. But that’s because we normalized it. And so it’s actually a big win,” Lalonde said.

Students are able to use the day to experience what it’s like to wear hijab in hopes of broadening their understanding of groups who may be different from them.

World of Inquiry 11th grader, Ciara Jones said she has been participating in the event since she was in elementary school.

“It’s been nice to get a little look into other cultures without appropriating them and do it in a respectful way,” Jones said.

And while the event works to educate the student body as a whole, it also helps hijabi girls feel seen in a society that is ever expanding.

As Lalonde says, “It matters because it normalizes the conversation.”

What once started as a misinterpretation has blossomed into an event that helps young hijabi girls understand their place in the world. Not only has the event blossomed over the past years within the Rochester City School District, it has also expanded past district borders.

A few years after RCSD’s initial inception of the event, the Brighton Central School District decided to join in on the fun.

Twelve Corners Middle School ESL teacher Kristen Hallagan is behind the event and said giving students a chance to embrace new cultures, religions, and languages makes for a better school community.

“The joy on the girls faces that our hijab wearers when they say, ‘At my old school, we never did anything like this. And I never had anybody that looked like me.’ It really means a lot to me today to see everybody interested and supportive,” Hallagan said.

At Brighton’s program, female students are invited to try out wearing the hijab for a day and see what the experience might bring them while male students – or those who are interested in supporting but may not want to wear a scarf – are invited to sport a sticker and share why the event is important to them.

6th grader Aisha Mouftah is a full time hijabi and 7th grader Sumeyye Bigec is just trying it out for the day. Both girls come from Islamic backgrounds and said seeing their classmates try out hijab for the day makes them feel empowered to be who they are.

“We’re celebrating World Hijab Day to make people who wear hijab feel comfortable and feel like they are welcomed here,” Bigec said.

“It makes me feel happy to see other people trying to wear hijab. It makes me feel welcomed,” Mouftah said.

While the event helps hijabi students feel seen in a world that is ever expanding, it also helps the minds of tomorrow understand the world they are apart of, even if it is done in a small way.

“Our school and our world is starting to really live together. And the more that we can understand other people, then the better the world is as a whole,” Hallagan said.

As of this year, World Hijab Day is celebrated worldwide in over 140 countries.