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Multicultural festival gives students a quick tour of 17 countries
By Tal Abbady
January 31, 2005
West Palm Beach As ambassador of Nicaragua, 13-year-old Christopher Pi unleashed a wealth of knowledge on every visitor to his country.
His 15-minute tours included references to Nicaragua's 5.2 million inhabitants, its famed poet Rubén Dar³o, its deep rain forests and volcanoes, and the typical bean soup and beef patties that mark the Nicaraguan diet.
One of 17 countries represented Sunday in Kaleidoscope 2005, a multicultural festival organized by Palm Beach County's schools and cultural organizations, Nicaragua inspired an exhibit by the students of Lake Worth Middle School that was a four-month labor of love.
"This is the culmination, not the journey," said Lhisa Almashy, a Lake Worth Middle School teacher at the event, of all 17 cultural exhibits that represented countries as varied as India, Haiti, Scotland, Trinidad and Finland. This is Kaleidoscope's eighth year.
For four months, Almashy said, students from 17 of this year's participating schools researched their designated countries and immersed themselves in their cultures. That focus resulted in elaborate displays that included geographical and historical exhibits, local costumes and native musical performances.
"It's intense, but the children really get involved, and that's the reward," Lake Worth Middle School teacher Ericka Govan said of the Nicaragua exhibit she supervised along with teacher Mary Ann Crandall.
Wearing a billowy, blue folk dress designed by students in the school as part of the costume display, Glandy Aplicano, 12, described the Nicaraguan rainforest's bird species and wild cats to visitors.
"It's really fun because we get to do the stuff, not the teachers," she said.
Parades, skits, dances and musical performances filled the festival site behind the West Palm Beach Public Library along Flagler Drive. These included a Junkanoo parade by students in the Bahamian group, a Rachmaninoff piano performance by a member of the Russian group, and folk dances from several countries.
Students from the Egyptian village delivered a skit illustrating an ancient Egyptian myth in which the weight of a deceased person's heart determines the fate of the soul in the afterlife.
"This is what it's all about, for all of us to get together in the spirit of joy and peace and learn from one another's cultures," said Luz VanMeek, a West Palm Beach resident visiting the festival.
To help prepare for the event, most participating schools paired with a cultural organization whose staff guided students through the creation of village exhibits and dance performances. Organizations included the Nicaraguan Association, the South Florida Science Museum, the Palm Beach India Association, Palm Beach Atlantic University, the Uruguayan Cultural Association and others.
A panel of judges that included school board, county and city officials selected the top cultural exhibits for recognition at an awards ceremony at the end of the day. Schools representing Nicaragua, Spain, the Philippines and Guyana-Trinidad received nods.
Mayor Lois Frankel was relieved not to be a judge this year given the high quality of the competing villages.
"We have so many assets here," Frankel said. "But it's not the waterfront, not the development, not Kravis Center -- it's the diversity of the people in this city that makes it special."
County Commissioner Jeff Koons, who was among the judges, watched Mexican-born Vanessa Sanchez, of Jupiter Elementary School, perform a Scottish sword dance as part of the Scotland exhibit.
"We have around 130 countries represented in the school system, and this is the one day we can see how international we are," Koons said.
Vanessa, 9, originally of Tuxtla, Mexico and a resident of Jupiter, rested with her classmates after the performance.
"I love to dance, usually Mexican dance," said the third-grader clad in a kilt. "I learned the Scottish sword dance in, like, three lessons."
Tal Abbady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6624.
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