The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 23, 2013

From far away places

Students learn about other cultures


DANVILLE — Dozens of children admired and touched unique items from far away places at Liberty Elementary School’s third annual Cultural Diversity Fair.

Liberty students had the opportunity Tuesday — and will again today — to experience and appreciate many different cultures from around the world.

The idea for the fair originally was hatched by Principal Eliza Brooks, and English Language Learner assistant Sandy Shillo ran with the plan, making it a two-day event.

Helping Shillo to organize this year’s event was the cultural diversity committee comprised of five teachers and the school’s learning resource clerk.

Parent volunteers and community volunteers, such as Danville Public Library outreach assistant Leslie Boedicker, also helped with the event.

“We’ve got a few new things this year because of our new committee,” Shillo said.

Shillo said she is always amazed by the help she receives from the community.

“I just asked around,” she said. “The public library also was a big help.”

This year’s fair showcased clothing and other assorted items from different countries, including Africa, China, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Libya, Mexico, the Middle East, Nicaragua and Spain.

Many of the items on display at the fair — including clothing items, headdresses, tea cups, hats, prayer beads and a prayer rug from the Middle East — came from Shillo’s personal collection.

Shillo showed a kindergarten class a dainty 24-karat gold cup that coffee is sipped out of in the Middle East, a small tin pot with a long handle that thick, sweet coffee is made in and a wooden cookie press that children guessed was a big spoon.

The children also were eager to touch an elaborately embroidered pillow from the Middle East.

Libya native Mahmoud Zwawi, the dad of a Liberty School student, brought in many objects from Libya, including plates, a woven fan, a clay pot used to keep water cool and a tarboosh, which is a hat similar to a fez.

The children also were enthralled with a rain stick from El Salvador, maracas and a wooden flute. Many of the items from Guatemala were displayed by second-grade teacher Ellen Pitcher.

English as a Second Language teacher Sue Ramirez showed students her large collection of items from Mexico and Nicaragua, including the Aztec calendar and mariachi dolls.

“If you were in a Mexican kitchen, you would find this,” she said as she demonstrated using a pestle in a stone bowl to crush corn for tortillas.

She then asked youngsters to guess what her next item was. Some children thought the wooden tortilla press was a vacuum cleaner or a launcher of some sort.

Ramirez also showed the children colorfully painted clay pots and jugs used to keep water cool.

“They use lots of bright colors,” she said.

When Ramirez held up a couple of ornate figurines, kindergartner JaVonte’ Forman couldn’t believe they were made of papier-mâché.

“No, that’s glass,” the youngster said.

The Liberty students, however, possibly learned the most about their own home country through an American Heritage display created by fifth-grade teacher Tia Peterson and Native American displays by Danville Election Commissioner Barbara Dreher and Boedicker from the public library.

Dreher’s display included a buffalo hide, moccasins, a man’s headdress made of porcupine guard hairs and a deer tail as well as fully beaded bags, footwear and leggings.

Dreher captivated a first-grade class by wearing an elk-tooth dress and a breast plate made of carved animal bones.

“The groom’s family would make the bride’s dress. If you have enough elk teeth to cover a dress, then the man she was marrying would be a good provider.”

While the woman’s breast plate was purely decorative, Dreher showed a man’s breast plate also made of carved bone that wouldn’t let an arrow pass through.

“Every part of the animal was used in everyday life,” she explained, as she let youngsters touch a pair of spoons made from carved horn and bones.

“They tan elk hide to make dresses and buffalo hide is used as warm bedding,” Dreher said.

Each student who visited the fair received a name tag that said “hello” in a different language and a globe keychain.