A celebration of celebrations

Lowell Whiteman Primary School students learn about other cultures, customs

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— Students at Lowell Whiteman Primary School got a taste of the world Friday -- several tastes, in fact.

In an event planned for more than two months, students at the small private school in downtown Steamboat Springs celebrated winter festivals from around the globe with costumes, crafts, music and food.

Five classrooms were transformed into different countries for the event, which Head of School Nancy Spillane said was intended to teach students about different cultures in a fun, hands-on way.

For most students, hands-on meant putting their hands on tasty snacks.

Homemade dishes, including Indian rice pudding, African vegetable stew, sweet potato pie, Jewish latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil) and apple sauce, challah bread, beans and tortillas with ponche de frutas (fruit punch), Chinese dumplings and egg drop soup were sampled by students, parents and teachers.

"The kids get to try 10 different foods today," said parent Gina Zedeck, who has two children at the school and helped organize the event.

Whiteman Primary has an enrollment of 59 students in kindergarten through eighth grades. At Friday's event, student groups rotated through classrooms adorned with African, Indian, Mexican, Chinese and Jewish decorations that students hung the night before, some staying two hours after school.

"I'm impressed, I'll tell you that," said art and computer teacher Mike Ruzicka as he looked up at red, black and green streamers hanging from his classroom's ceiling to celebrate Kwanzaa, the African harvest celebration.

At the front of the room, students Charlie VonThaden and Mason Bates quizzed other students about an African skit they had performed just minutes before.

"Who knows what 'Matunda ya Kwanzaa means?" asked Charlie, 12, a seventh-grader.

"First fruits," a fellow student answered. A moment later, another student said there are seven days in the celebration that begins Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1.

Charlie and Mason, 11, were in charge of the Kwanzaa display because they were members of the student "Festivals Council" that planned the events in each classroom. Students Hannah Fishman, Madison Keeffe, Jonathan Milne, Shaq Torrella, Laina Weinman and Kendall Yeager also are on the council, which soon will have more work to do.

"We're doing a celebration of festivals throughout the school year," said Debbie Gooding, director of admissions and student services at Whiteman Primary. "This is our first one."

In a classroom with decorations celebrating the Chinese New Year, students cut red construction paper into large envelopes. On the New Year's holiday, married couples in China give children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes, an ancient custom called Hong Bao.

The Chinese New Year is Feb. 12, but that did not bother Shaq, 12, who helped set up the room with Jonathan, 11.

"We wanted to celebrate it now while we had a chance," Shaq said.

A few doors down, in the room celebrating Mexican Christmas, which lasts nine days and includes nightly gatherings in neighborhood homes, Spanish teacher Floyd Trujillo helped students make miniature piñatas out of paper bags.

"Wait until you get home, and then tear it open," Trujillo told Noah Bass, 7, who had a blue piñata hanging from the ceiling and worked on another.

Along with the students, parent Molly Wilson decided to broaden her cultural horizons.

"I'm headed for Africa," Wilson said, referring to a room down the hall. "I heard the soup was good."

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