MONROE: Students learn about countries at fair

Amy Batista, Special Writer
   MONROE — The Barclay Brook/Brookside PTA hosted its fourth annual Cultural Fair on Feb. 10 for students to come and celebrate cultures around the world.
   It was a collaborative effort of parents, teachers and administrative and school staff. The chairpersons for the event were Anandi Nagarajan, Foroozan Fayazi-Azad and Janet Baptista.
   Every student had the opportunity to learn and experience new countries’ cultures, customs, traditions, language and more as they “traveled” around the world.
   Tables were set up around the gym, and children rotated from one to another. The event has grown over the years from a one-day event in the classroom to multiple tables in the gym.
   Each year the tables are changed, and more detail is added. This year, 12 different countries were showcased — Australia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, England, Holland, India, Iran, Italy, Peru and Portugal.
   At India’s booth, students participated in a tradition known as Rangoli, which is a form of Hindu decorative artwork. It is mainly done with colored rice and done at times of the Festival of Lights to welcome friends and family outside the home or in courtyards for the goddess of wealth.
   The students built a collective Rangoli at the table as they learned about the country, and at the end, they received colored orange rice to helped design their own Rangoli, which the volunteer parents at the booth took a picture of for the students’ classroom.
   Students learned the costumes were made out of cotton fabric due to the year-round warm weather there. They also learned about the national bird, which is the peacock, and the tiger, the national animal.
   At the China table, students learned that the Chinese have 20,000 characters in their language. Due to the timing of the Chinese New Year, the students had the unique opportunity to learn a little about that holiday and the fact it is the Year of the Dragon. The panda is the country’s national animal.
   Volunteers, which were mainly parents with several teachers, hosted each country. Each table included a display board that could include pictures, artifacts, currency, newspapers in their language and more.
   Students learned how to say “hello” at each of the countries as they “traveled,” and some of the countries had the word written down for them. In addition, the country flags and maps were on display. Students also learned about food, art, music, dance, monuments and inventions.
   ”(The fair is) basically to help children understand the cultural differences, what it is like in different parts of the world and educate them,” said Komila Pandit, of Monroe, and a volunteer at the India table.
   ”The whole idea is that since it is a diverse community in Monroe, and we have the fair to explain the diversity and share the diverse cultures we have here in the community,” said Ms. Nagarajan, fair chairwoman. “An event like this really helps kids, who haven’t seen different cultures, understand where their classmates come from. It gives them a really good thing to connect with, and kids are so fascinated by all the different artifacts, different holidays, languages.”
   Many of the volunteers came dressed in traditional customs or a piece of clothing that represented something their country was known for. At the China table, a dragon face was on display that was made the previous week by Ms. Smits’ second-grade class at Barclay Brook School.
   ”It’s a great experience for all of us and the children. They get a taste of each country,” said Cindy Braun, of Monroe, who was volunteering at the Holland table.
   ”It all ties into our anti-bullying policies,” said Janet Baptista, of Monroe, who was volunteering at the Holland table. “You are learning about other cultures. So what, people might look different, they might eat different things. There’s no reason to treat them any different.”
   Students were encouraged to “show your colors” this year to make the fair more festive by dressing in their traditional cultural costume or wearing the colors of a country of their choice.
   The teachers do some kind of an assignment that ties into the fair, whether it was through a bulletin board display, recipe book, creating authentic passports, sending in travel logs to be posted on the fair website and more.
   Third-grade teacher Diana Mazurek’s class did a variety of projects over the prior week to prepare the students for the fair. Her students interviewed their parents about their heritage, wrote a recipe from their culture and drew their flag. Students completed a family tree, worked on their passports, then visited the fair.
   Ms. Mazurek volunteered the day of the fair. She represented her own country, the Czech Republic. This was her first time participating in the fair.
   ”A lot of the kids don’t know of this country (Czech Republic),” she said. “My mom’s side is from there. All the stuff (on the table) is from there. The crystal, the decorations, which I thought I would share with everybody. It’s nice sharing with all the kids.”
   Art teacher David Virelles has been sharing with his class over the week the basics of his country, Cuba, where his family and his father came from. He taught them about the agriculture, architecture, beaches, the island, the baseball plays, the famous celebrities that came from Cuba and more.
   ”There is excitement when the children come to Brazil,” said Tracey Dilascio, of Monroe, who was volunteering at the Brazil table. “The first thing they know about the country is soccer, and they all have questions, and so they are very curious after the presentation to know more.”
   New this year was an online fair. It is a website developed by PTA volunteers to put together in one place a collection of student-friendly information and activities about different countries.
   ”I enjoyed the Cultural Fair very much! It was great seeing artifacts and colorful pictures from different countries,” said fourth-grader Jahnvi Seshadri. “We also learned a lot about different customs and traditions in the different countries. When I visited India, I loved doing the Rangoli, The passport and online Cultural Fair was cool, too.”
   Students were able to write online to the PTA about a country they have visited and have their entry featured in the PTA Student Globetrotter Hall of Fame.
   ”I think the Cultural Fair was a great representation of America and a way to bring America together from different parts of the world and show that we can play together as a team and really build a community of like-minded people,” said Cecilia Afonso-Cavadas, of Monroe, who was volunteering at the Portugal table.