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June 20, 2006 > Students enjoy a Trip Around the World

Students enjoy a Trip Around the World

by Gary Leatherman

"The national flower of Pakistan is jasmine; there really are Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania; the Chinese invented the compass." Those were a few of the revelations students at Warm Springs Elementary School discovered at the school's Trip Around the World festival May 30 to June 1.

Some 250 parents helped develop the multinational extravaganza at Warm Springs Elementary School that included interactive instructional displays from more than 40 countries on six continents and culminated in a festival of music, food and dance that drew more than 1,200 participants.

Principal Robin Riley said the festival was intended to be fun but with a strong emphasis on students learning about countries and cultures around the world. Participating students carried passports that contained three questions about each of the countries presented in the school's multipurpose room. To get his or her passport stamped, every student had to find the answers to questions that were revealed somewhere in the display booth. The questions ranged from a country's geographical features, natural resources, wildlife, intellectual contributions and even sports history.

Riley said the extent of the information provided and the creativity displayed by the parent volunteers was phenomenal. Some parents said they invested as much as 70 hours over three weeks to create their displays. Devi Rao and Becky Larson, the principal organizers of the festival, also invested hundreds of hours compiling a retail-quality cookbook of 120 recipes from around the world and testing every one before including it in the book.

Rao said she had presented a display on the United Kingdom for the first Warm Springs cultural fair last year and that she and Larson began working with Riley and teachers to plan the 2006 event almost immediately afterward. Their goal was to make the fair a true community event that would include the full range of diversity in the Warm Springs area, especially people who might not usually think of sharing their history. They succeeded beyond their expectations.

This year's event included displays from Russia, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Ireland, and Columbia. Riley said a noteworthy example of the interaction the fair generated was that often volunteers helping students learn about the country in the display area were from another country themselves. She said the event not only involved every teacher in the school, but a number of organizations not affiliated with the school, such as the Little League, scouts, parents of junior high and high school students and parents of private school students.

The Thursday evening finale featured more than 600 students performing ethnic dances from countries all around the world. Classroom teachers spent several weeks prior to the festival teaching students dances and costuming from Serbia, China, Ghana, Japan and dozens of other countries. Music teacher Gina Ali led six different classrooms in performing songs from around the world between dances. More entertainment was provided by Chops, a 20- member Bay Area jazz band who donated their time. Riley said that over 1,200 meals were served in the international feast area, all of which were prepared by volunteers and donated to the event.

Anticipation of the festival also was heightened by a year-long Culture-in-a-Box program through which every classroom received a presentation about at least one country around the world, Rao said. In the instructional time leading up to the festival, parents also volunteered to read stories from their respective countries to classes.

Rao said she was thrilled with the event. "The biggest compliment was hearing kids talking about the displays on the playground. They were asking each other, 'Have you been in yet? It's so good!"'

In the display area, students enjoyed activities ranging from playing Native American musical instruments to having traditional Pakistani wedding designs painted on their hands in henna. Fourth-graders Saurabh Gupta and Adnan Yousuf said they found Australia, Tasmania and China particularly interesting. Gupta said he enjoyed learning from a festival. "It's more fun than class," he said. "It makes me want to go there."

He noted that when he talks to his friends, he can ask them questions. "I can let them know I know something about their country," he said. "It helps me understand my classmates better."

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