By Kristin Schultz
NISKAYUNA – It may have been the area’s only Lunch and Learn that included juice boxes and fruit cups, but for two-and-a-half hours on March 7, Rosendale Elementary School students filed in and out of the cafeteria and enjoyed a side of knowledge with their peanut butter and jelly.
The elementary school hosted its first Family Culture Event, at which parents, family and staff talked to students about other countries, cultures and festivals.
Principal Joseph DiCaprio and social worker Jessica Brennan organized the event as part of the school’s No Place for Hate initiative. They sent an open invitation to school families to come and talk to students about their unique experiences.
The kids are curious about different cultures in a good way,” said Brennan. “This is the place to ask questions appropriately and get to know each other.”
Seven families prepared presentations with topics ranging from Chinese culture to the Pandharpur pilgrimage in India to Romanian traditions. As each grade filed into the cafeteria for lunch, the presentations began.
According to Marie Digirolamo, the school district’s supervisor of English as a new language program, there are 98 students representing 18 home languages other than English at Niskayuna’s five elementary schools.
The most common are Chinese, Hindi and Telugu.
“We’re lucky,” said Digirolamo. “It enriches the experience of all Niskayuna students to meet people from all over the world who speak different languages.”
Yi Lei, mother of a second-grader, spoke about her native China. She is from the Shaanxi province and her husband is from the Liaoning province. The former software engineer and her husband moved to Ottawa more than 15 years ago and relocated to Niskayuna about four years ago. Lei’s goal for her presentation was to keep it simple.
“I focused on more general information about China,” she said. “It’s good to let the kids know there is something different.”
She showed the children pictures of China’s flag, its capital, the Forbidden City and giant panda bears.
Lijing Gou also talked about his native China, concluding with tips to finding an authentic Chinese restaurant (If there are Chinese people eating there, it’s probably authentic. If it has the words “golden” “dragon” “China” “king” or “panda,” it’s probably not authentic.).
The students, whether in kindergarten, fifth grade or in between, sat attentive and polite, as speakers took the floor and spoke about the “sea of people” making the annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur, the legend of the Dragon Boat Festival and Romanian and Jamaican traditions.
“This is an extension of our work with No Place for Hate through the Anti-Defamation League,” said DiCaprio. “It’s an effort to teach tolerance, friendship, acceptance and mutual respect.”
This was the second No Place for Hate event. In the fall, students participated in a “mix it up” lunch where the children ate lunch with a group of peers they didn’t normally eat with in the hopes of fostering understanding and friendships.