Annual Easthampton Elementary School Cultural Festival opens April 11
Brooke Bongiovanni makes a flag of Italy in Sue Syer's second-grade class last week at Maple School in Easthampton, in preparation for the Elementary School Cultural Festival.
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Gabriel Rapoza works on a flag of Portugal after finishing a flag of Azores last week in Sue Syer's second-grade class at Maple School in Easthampton.
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EASTHAMPTON — Every year at this time, city elementary school teacher Jacqui LaFrance looks forward to becoming a cultural tourist for a night.
April 11, the elementary schools will host their sixth annual Cultural Festival, where school families share food, music and games from their
countries of origin. The roster of nations represented this year includes Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Iraq, Mexico, Poland and Spain — among others.
LaFrance, who teaches English language learners at all three city elementary schools, says the best thing about the festival is the way it brings school families together to share their heritage.
“It’s magical,” she said. “We all get to know a little bit more about each other.”
This year’s festival opens with a Japanese Taiko drumming performance at 6 p.m. in the Pepin School auditorium, followed by arrays of international dishes, artwork and activities in the school gym.
New this year is a display of artwork from an exchange fourth-graders at Center/Pepin have held with students in Iraq.
Pepin school parent Jhamba Sherpa has had a booth at the festival for the last three years about Tibet and Nepal, Himalayan countries where she and her husband are from.
“Last year I brought a Tibetan traditional dish called sweet rice and Nepalese sweet tea,” said Sherpa, whose daughter, Thupten is a third-grader at Center/Pepin. “I feel it is part of my contribution just to be involved. And I want to share my culture.”
School parent Sokleap So is once again hosting a table on Cambodian culture.
“The festival is getting bigger and bigger every year,” said So, whose son Sophandaro Pek is a second grader at Center/Pepin and whose three other children are now at White Brook Middle School.
“Everyone looks forward to it,” she added. “People like to get together and learn from each other.”
The festival is also a learning experience for students, LaFrance said, offering teachers a chance to plan classroom activities in the weeks leading up to the event. Among the student projects that will be on display in the gym are research reports on countries, family trees and flags of the world.
One morning last week, students in Kerry Mackenzie’s first-grade class at Center school were hard at work making animal mosaics out of tiny squares of brightly-colored paper to display at the festival.
“We just finished a section on Greek mythology,” said Mackenzie, a 27-year veteran of the Easthampton schools. “I like the idea of talking about different cultures and tying the festival back to the classroom.”
Student Maxwell Dopp had chosen a fish design for his mosaic.
“I like the ocean and it’s one of my favorite foods,” he explained.
How did people in ancient Greece make mosaics?
“They had humongous ones where it took thousands of people to do it,” said Dalton Slate.
“I think they used, like, little stones,” added classmate, Brook Piziak.
LaFrance said the cultural festival began in 2007 as an event for kindergartners. Center/Pepin Principal Robert Orlando and school parent Kara McElhone — both veterans of such events at other schools — were co-organizers.
In its second year, the festival became a three-day classroom event where parents brought artifacts and visited their children’s elementary schools to see student displays, LaFrance said.
Because of the high turnout, administrators decided to move the festival to the Pepin School auditorium and hold it on a single evening, LaFrance said.
Her favorite part of the event remains the way it draws school families and makes them the center of the festival.
“It’s so satisfying to experience the families being the experts while we are all walking around asking questions and sampling the food and the displays,” LaFrance said.
In addition to LaFrance and Orlando, lead organizers for this year’s festival were Center/Pepin art teacher Julia Max and elementary school parents Megan Frazier and Jane Lohmann.
For details on the event, call LaFrance at 529-1540.