By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Native dress, savory ethnic foods, traditional dance and a wealth of artifacts and historical factoids offered visitors to St. Ann School an evening to travel the world and marvel at the grace and beauty of all nations.
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For two hours Oct. 8, the gymnasium in the Lawrenceville school was transformed into a mini-United Nations where sixth, seventh and eighth grade students hosted an International Night, proudly sharing what they had learned about their own family origins.
“This is an excellent way for the students to come to know their own heritages, customs and traditions,” said John McKenna, principal.
As host and coordinator of the school’s first International Night, Ameriquin Dalmasy-Laccetti, a teacher there for the past three years, explained the evening marked a “culmination” of the school’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration held from Sept. 15-Oct. 15. Throughout the month, the contributions of Hispanic people, as well as other cultures in America, were highlighted in lesson plans and student studies. While Hispanic Heritage Month acknowledges the different races and ethnicities that settled on the American continent since the arrival of Christopher Columbus to America in 1492, Dalmasy-Laccetti decided to broaden the celebration that provided a “a great opportunity for our middle schoolers to share their heritage with their fellow students while learning a little bit more about their own roots.”
The evolvement of International Night consisted of students first writing responses to 12 questions on one of the countries, states or nations from which their ancestors hail. The students, with some help from their parents, or other relatives, researched their country of origin, including its location, languages spoken, religions practiced, as well as foods and music. Students then worked with their peers of the same heritage in building a tri-fold and brought memorabilia and food that pertained to their heritage. The students were also encouraged to perform a dance or song from their native country.
While Dalmasy-Laccetti appreciated the collaboration she received from colleagues and noted how the project fulfilled requirements for other classes such as social studies and ILA, what was most important about the International Night was how it “engaged the students in a positive way and allowed them to be proud of why they are and where they come from and to see where their friends come from as well.”
The International Night “ultimately promotes tolerance and acceptance of other cultures, and what better way is there to promote peace than by celebrating together,” she said.
Standing by her display, eighth-grader Rose Kimball graciously asked visitors to taste pork, red cabbage and potatoes as she shared the history of Alsace Lorraine, a place which “no one ever seems to talk about.”
Kimball enjoyed recounting how her great grandfather, whose surname was Walter, had hailed from the Alsace Lorraine region which is located in present-day France, and how the region was originally fought over by both France and Germany. Though Alsace Lorraine resides in the French region, given its proximity to Germany, both languages are taught in schools and the foods and cultures are also a mix of German and French. In her research, Kimball was intrigued by the popularity of Boxing Day and how the holiday is customarily celebrated the day after Christmas when servants and tradesmen received gifts from their employers.
Seventh graders Colin Monato and Makaena Hewitt and eighth grader Mikael Arellano wowed their audience with “tinikling,” a common a Filipino stick dance that involves two people beating, tapping and sliding bamboo sticks on the ground and against each other in coordination with one or more dancers who step over and in between the poles. Danny DeLongaig, who is of Irish descent, sang an a capella rendition of Danny Boy.
Platters of pierogis, kielbasa and rye bread, babka, poppy seed cake and bottles of oranzada – orange soda, graced the table, staffed by seventh graders Haley Adamczak and Olivia Zebrowski. While both noted how they found their studies on Poland to be insightful, Adamczak said she was impressed to learn about the many tourist attractions in Poland that visitors would find appealing. Zebrowski shared a number of “fun facts” of Poland, such as the more than 15 Poles who were named Nobel Prize laureates.
When asked about her favorite Polish foods, Adamczak promptly responded, “Pierogis all the way.”