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The kickoff to winter break in Marie Chery’s kindergarten class at Walker School was a unique holiday party. It was filled with guitar music, dancing, a slide show, singing, and a bountiful potluck meal – and included about 45 students, teachers, family members and guests.
The theme was cultural diversity, and the unifying elements were celebrations and food. On the Friday before District 65’s two-week vacation, Room 105 was both lively and aromatic.
Ms. Chery explained that her classroom is a rich patchwork of cultures, represented by families from India, Haiti, Korea, the Philippines, Ireland, Brazil, Mexico, Vietnam and African countries. “Because there are so many different countries and traditions here, I decided to celebrate the diversity with something that unifies us. We all cook and eat rice, so I thought we could share that,” she said.
Indeed, a sumptuous array of rice dishes overflowed a table, and students’ and guests’ plates were filled with mouthwatering rice dishes. Vietnamese fried rice, Rosh Hashanah carrot and raisin basmati rice, kimchi fried rice, sweet coconut rice cakes, rice pudding, and Hoppin’ John (beans, ham, and rice) were some of the dishes the students’ families had prepared to share.
The variety of sweet and savory rice dishes reinforced the statistic that rice is the main food for half of the world’s population and that this edible grass is cultivated in over a hundred countries and on every continent except Antarctica.
Good food was only part of the party. Walker’s principal, Erik Friedman, welcomed families, after which Ms. Chery led students in singing a Haitian folk song.
Albert Macaya, a parent, told students and guests about celebrating Christmas in his native country of the Philippines. He invited them to taste the traditional rice cakes his wife made from sticky rice sweetened with coconut milk. Another parent, Mr. Jo, taught the group about Seolla, the traditional Korean New Year’s celebration. A colorful slide presentation included Korean words the group practiced saying, followed by Mr. Jo accompanying the group on guitar for a Korean song. The next item on the party agenda was a well-rehearsed English waltz in which kindergarteners demonstrated an old-fashioned style of dancing and manners. Before leaving and wishing each other happy holidays, each family received a collection of family rice recipes, the “Everybody Cooks Rice” cookbook.
The diversity celebration, which began weeks before the potluck party, featured four additional parents giving presentations about Chanukah, Indian Ein and Diwali celebrations and Christmas. Teacher assistant Ms. Mulhern, ELL Teacher Ms. Goswami and a parent committee helped plan this joyful program.