Easthampton students learn about Caribbean culture through poetry, history

  • Jackie Janulewicz, the Library Para Educator at Maple school in Easthampton, leads a group in an activity on African American culture through poetry Tuesday,April 23, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lawrence Sullivan, a kindergartener at Maple school in Easthampton, works on an art project as part of an activity on African American culture through poetry Tuesday,April 23, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Above, Mikey Norman, a kindergartner at Maple School in Easthampton, works on an art project as part of an activity on African-American culture through poetry Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jodi Alatalo, a Elementary Literacy Coordinator,hands Ethan Linnell, a student at Maple School in Easthampton, a piece of Mango as part of an activity on African American culture through poetry Tuesday,April 23, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jodi Alatalo, a Elementary Literacy Coordinator,hands Mikey Norman, a student at Maple School in Easthampton, a piece of Mango as part of an activity on African American culture through poetry Tuesday,April 23, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jackie Janulewicz, the library paraeducator at Maple School in Easthampton, shows a group of students a steel drum as part of an activity on African-American culture through poetry, Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jodi Alatalo, a Elementary Literacy Coordinator,hands Samantha Lepine, a student at Maple School in Easthampton, a piece of Mango as part of an activity on African American culture through poetry Tuesday,April 23, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer 
Published: 4/23/2019 11:37:17 PM

EASTHAMPTON – At the start of a lesson on African Caribbean history, Jodi Alatalo asked students, “How many of you have heard of the Caribbean?”

Hands belonging to fourth graders shot up in the air in the Maple School’s basement library. “How many know where the Caribbean is?” Alatalo asked, and most hands fell back down.

Alatalo, elementary literacy coordinator for the district, and librarian Jackie Janulewicz held five 15-minute lessons for students at Maple on Tuesday as part of “Día,” or “Diversity in Action,” a program geared toward linking literature with diverse cultures.

“We want to make sure we are giving kids background and not just surface-level cultural experience,” Alatalo said in between lessons.

For second-, third- and fourth-graders, a history lesson on the slave trade between West Africa and the Americas and the Caribbean provided the context to a poem by Faustin Charles of Trinidad.

Alatalo and Janulewicz told students how slave labor was used to grow sugar cane on plantations in the Caribbean and showed the rise in the average use of sugar in England over the course of 250 years in a chart. By 1850, the average person was consuming 40 pounds of sugar a year.

Explaining the slave trade in the Caribbean, Alatalo and Janulewicz told students how this created a fusion of cultures on the islands in the Caribbean. The French brought their tradition of carnivals and the Africans created instruments with oil drums.

“African slaves didn’t have musical instruments, they had to use what they could find,” Alatalo told to the class. “The steel drum is an important part of the Caribbean culture. It has become known around the world and it came from an island called Trinidad.”

After passing a piece of sugar cane around the room and showing students a steel drum that Janulewicz brought it, the class read Charles’ “Steel Band Jump Up.”

“I put my ear to the ground and I hear the steel band sound,” Alatalo read aloud. “Ping pong. Ping pong. Music deep, rhythm sweet and dancing tracking the beat. Like a seashell’s ringing song. Ping pong. Ping pong.”

“I learned that the Caribbean people were slaves and had to harvest the cane sugar,” Lily Linnell, a third- grader, said.

Finley Foster, a second-grader, said he enjoyed the repetition of Charles’ poem.

For kindergartners and first-graders at Maple, their poem was “Fruits,” by Jamaican poet Opal Palmer Adisa. On sheets of paper printed with the poem and outlines of fruit, the students pasted bits of paper to make paper-collage works of art.

Meanwhile, Alatalo passed out pieces of mango, plantain chips and pomegranate seeds to the class.

April is National Poetry Month and students have been learning about literary concepts such as onomatopoeia and similes and were able to pick them out in the lines of Charles’ poetry, Janulewicz said.

“Poetry gives us a glimpse of what is like to live where someone lives, to experience the things someone experiences,” Alatalo said.

“We liked the way in which the poems played to the different senses, we thought it was really important for the students to experience the sounds,” Janulewicz said.

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) promotes Día to foster literacy for children from all backgrounds.

The interactive lessons, called “Caribbean Poetry: Un Viaje de Los Sentidos (A Journey of the Senses)” continues on Wednesday at Maple.

On Friday, local reggae band The Equalites will perform in the Maple School cafeteria from 2 to 3 p.m. to cap off the Afro-Caribbean cultural week.

The school will receive $500 worth of multicultural books from the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature for hosting the Día events.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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