Getting a ticket for a trip to the land of learning

Cultures blend as pupils rack up experiences and parrot stickers during `Around the World in 5 Days' multicultural events at Spring Garden

October 29, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,sun reporter

Jules Verne's character may have strived to make it around the world in 80 days, but the pupils at Hampstead's Spring Garden Elementary School did it in five.

Without leaving school grounds, they flew from Australia to West Africa, China to Western Europe, Japan to Mexico, racking up the miles and stickers of parrots, fans and flowers on their unofficial passports - a lanyard around their necks.

Along the way, they learned that rojo means red in Spanish, that an African thumb piano looks nothing like the ebony-and-ivory keyed instrument they know, and that eating Cheerios with chopsticks is not as hard as it looks.

The activities were part of a PTA fundraiser turned multicultural extravaganza, in which pupils got sponsors to donate money toward their "trip."

"Our flight today will continue to different places," a voice over the school's PA system said Tuesday morning before the half-hour sessions began. "Fasten your seat belts for today's journey."

That journey took a fourth-grade group to Australia, where physical education teacher Denise St. Rose taught them how to make boomerang clappers.

The children worked at tables, gluing Popsicle sticks to boomerang-shaped cardboard. Soft flutes and drums of aboriginal music accompanied them.

Kamen Siperko, 9, drew three blue squiggly lines - the Australian icon for snakes, he learned - on each clapper. He added sets of paws, which symbolized dingoes, in red, yellow and blue.

"I learned that they only live in Australia," Kamen said of dingoes. "They're like hunting dogs."

The lessons emerged from a brainstorming session for a PTA fundraiser, said Phyllis Sonnenleiter, the school's principal. St. Rose and Sherry Clower, another physical education teacher, suggested a program that would teach kids exercises from different countries.

Other instructors saw an opportunity to expand the lessons beyond the physical realm. Media specialists looked to Africa for lessons in song and folklore. Art turned to Asia and drew inspiration from gyotaku, a Japanese fish printing technique that dates back to the 19th century.

And so, throughout the week, children pulled into Gates A3 and A7, landing at tables covered in newspaper.

"I'd like to start this session, boys and girls, with a formal traditional greeting to you," said Jan Van Bibber, the art teacher. She placed her arms at her sides and bowed at the waist.

The children followed suit.

They then used black watercolor to paint serene scenes of ducks and bamboo trunks shooting out of water. Other pupils slathered black or silver paint onto one side of a rubber fish, then pressed that side onto a sheet of turquoise-colored paper.

Outside, in a portable classroom, another group flew to Asia, where they sat cross-legged on square mats. They gazed intently into small Dixie cups, chopsticks in hand.

Kids scraped the bottoms of their cups and tried to grasp a Cheerio or scoop up Rice Krispies. Some gave up and "cheated," stabbing the Cheerios' centered hole and popping it into their mouths.

"Everybody frustrated?" asked Beth Berry, who teaches health.

"Why would you go through all this frustration learning to eat with this when you could just eat with your hands?" Chad Kiser, 9, asked.

Like many of his peers, Chad said he had never eaten with chopsticks before.

"I'm not really used to it," he said.

Despite his chopstick skepticism, Chad said he enjoyed his international trips.

"I've wanted to travel, so just to get a little idea of what it feels like is pretty cool," Chad said. He wants to visit Australia the most - a country he'd traveled to the day before, when he learned an Australian song.

Clower and other teachers hope the week will inspire more of that kind of thinking.

"I think they have a little better appreciation for other countries and cultures," Clower said. She also hopes students picked up some of the rules and tips they learned for future reference.

The lessons seemed to stick with at least a few.

During lunch, Ashley Kooker and Kaitlin Smith, both 9, tested their chopsticks on hash browns and macaroni and cheese. A student at another table reached inside a carton of goldfish with his. One boy adeptly tossed Lucky Charms gummies into his mouth.

Mable Windsor-Buchanan, 10, said her parents were impressed with her journey.

"It's not like they did this when they were kids," the fifth-grader said. "It's special. We get to have a change ... It's always fun - it's like a vacation."

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