BY KATHRYN HRYCUSKO
Special to the VOICE
Grade 2 students at St. Alexander Catholic Elementary waited in excitement last Wednesday behind desks decked out with flags, food, and art of various countries as their parents, grandparents, and fellow schoolmates filed into the gymnasium. Each student had chosen a country that was part of his or her heritage to study, and visitors were invited to admire the displays and ask students questions about the culture they were representing.
Judy Wiebe, one of the Grade 2 teachers who helped organize the event, known as Culture Fest, said that the idea was to give kids an opportunity to teach others about their heritage, and in doing so to help their fellow students broaden their world knowledge.
In its 14th year, Culture Fest is the culminating project of the Grade 2 Social Studies unit. Students have spent the last couple of months studying various cultures around the world in order to understand how other people live. In particular, they focused on three communities: Igloolik (an Arctic community in Northern Canada), Iquitos (a rainforest village in Peru), and Meru (a Kenyan equatorial village).
Looking at climate, location, transportation, food, and recreation, the students compared each of these communities to Fonthill.
Adelina Bellantino, the Grade 2 teacher who spearheads Culture Fest, said that they looked at a number of other communities around the world as well in an effort to understand how other people lived. Throughout the unit, the Grade 2s also received visits from Pelham librarians, who brought along books about various places around the world for further comparison.
As a conclusion to the unit, students were required to choose a country that their ancestors had come from, and present on its traditions and foods, particularly in relation to their own family traditions. They were then tasked with putting together a display for Culture Fest which would showcase artifacts and information relating to this history.
Though one teacher, who was showing her class around, said that the event had been much larger in the past (complete with crockpots of food), the gym was still crowded as the various heritage artifacts were admired. Bellantino said that students greatly looked forward to Culture Fest every year and that the older grades remembered their participation in the event with fondness.
Graycen, who chose to focus on Germany despite his family’s presence in Canada for several generations, said that he was excited once the event started, but had been nervous the night before,because he knew there would be a lot of people in attendance.
Another student, Nathan, who presented on his Italian heritage, said that he had been excited as well for Culture Fest because it gave him a chance to teach others about Italy. He was equipped with fun facts about the country, including that gelato had come from Italy originally, but could now be bought in Fonthill.
Italy, along with Ireland and England, had the strongest representation, while some countries, such as Slovakia, Germany, Pakistan, and Taiwan only had one champion.
For many of the students, their connection with the country they had chosen was a generation or two removed. Most had one or two grandparents who had been born in the country whose flag they sat underneath, though some also had parents who had immigrated to Canada, bringing their birth country’s traditions with them.
For the most part, the connection that most of the students felt for the countries of their ancestors was reflected in the foods they liked. Though not available for sampling, food was still prevalent and kids sat beside plastic containers of cabbage rolls, pasta, perogies, cookies, and, in the case of a girl representing Ireland, a single potato on a plate. Molly, who also chose to focus on her Irish heritage, sat beside a loaf of Irish soda bread, a food she says she enjoys eating with lots of butter. Representing Italy, Noah said that his mum often made homemade sauce, and that he thoroughly enjoyed pizza and pasta. Across the room from the Italian corner, a single student with American heritage sat with boxes of Oreos and Cheerios.
Along with food, many of the students also brought in flags, posters, and books about the flora and fauna of their chosen country. These were placed alongside family heirlooms such as decorative plates, boxes, and knickknacks, to demonstrate traditional artistry. Showing off aspects of her family’s Polish traditions, Grade 2 student Maya had wooden eggs, a scarf, a flag, perogies, and the figurine of a witch from Polish fairy tales on her desk. Beside her, and also representing Poland, Jenna showed off engraved wooden plates and figurines, a craft that she says she does with her grandmother sometimes. A select few also wore traditional outfits or jerseys of their country’s soccer teams.
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