Youngsters get a slice of cultures

September 25, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Living in Taneytown amid the descendants of white Europeans, a child might go years without donning a sombrero.

But 5-year-old Lacee Litchfield and the other children enrolled in a new multicultural program in Carroll County schools are crafting paper sombreros and ponchos, molding clay beads to string into necklaces and weaving yarn into squares.

They sit around instructor Jennifer Yust, who reads and shows them books about Spanish-speaking countries.

"She walks around saying 'adios' and 'amigos' all the time," Lacee's mother, Jody Litchfield, said.

And before six weeks are up, Lacee will have crafted other items from the cultures of African-Americans, Native Americans, Germans, Japanese, Chinese and Jews.

A flier about the program to introduce children to other cultures ,, accompanied Lacee home from her kindergarten class at Runnymede Elementary School early this month. The classes run through December for four nights a week, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Each night of the week offers different activities: Monday is for games, Tuesday is for storytelling, Wednesday for arts and crafts, Thursday for music.

Children who are 4 or 5 years old can be signed up for one night, or as many as four nights a week. Everything is free and open to any family in the county, although the sessions are held at Runnymede Elementary School.

Ms. Litchfield and her husband, Roger, decided to enroll Lacee in the Wednesday night arts and crafts program because their daughter likes that sort of thing.

"I want her to learn about different cultures," Ms. Litchfield said. "With all the racism and all now, I think it's good for her to learn about other cultures and other people. I think it's good for a child to do that."

It's not just for the child. At least one parent has to come with the child, because the program is part of a trend in Maryland schools to promote families learning together.

To make it possible for parents to attend, the program comes with a free child care service. In a classroom down the hall, an adult and a few middle- and high-school volunteers watch siblings 1 to 3 years old.

Last Wednesday, Lacee's whole family went. The girl and her father participated in the crafts class, while Ms. Litchfield comforted her younger daughter, Ciarra, 2. The goal had been for mother and father to participate, but Ciarra had just awakened from a nap and was not in a mood for a baby sitter.

Nine families have signed up, but Patricia Amass, the Carroll County schools grant coordinator who devised the program, expects enrollment to grow as word travels and the schools get more fliers to libraries, physician offices and coin laundries -- wherever parents might congregate.

"It takes time for a program like this to get started," Ms. Amass said. But she has a little time: The schools are guaranteed by the state to get the $11,000 grant to support the program again next year.

It's not too late for children to sign up for the current year, she said.

Ms. Amass said she came up with the idea for the program when she heard about money available to counties for activities in which parents participate with their young children.

"We decided there are lots of recreational programs for school-age children, but very little for the 4's and 5's," Ms. Amass said.

"We also had gotten some requests from parents in our pre-kindergarten program for more multicultural materials."

"They thought their children didn't have opportunities to interact with people from different cultures," she said, especially living in Carroll.

"They didn't want their children to stare and point at people and ask embarrassing questions when they were around mixed ethnic groups."

Ms. Litchfield said she is puzzled that more parents aren't taking advantage of the classes.

"I shouldn't say anything," she said, wondering whether she has found a good thing and should keep it to herself. "Next week there'll be tons of kids there."

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