You could learn all about cultures from around the world at Roosevelt Middle School Friday and not even have to show a passport to take part.
Food, displays, performances and hands-on craft projects were on the bill in River Forest as dozens of parents and students took part in the Cultural Extravaganza, the school's 15th such event.
Aromas, sounds and sights of the school's annual festival honoring the diversity at the school were everywhere. The south gym was awash in flags, some representative of the nationalities of the students who attend the school.
Down the hall, a drumming circle was active almost from the moment the event started. In the auditorium, children in costume performed Chinese and Irish step dances. Another played the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument.
A number of participants came in costume, some loaned from Oak Park Elementary District 97's Multicultural Center, which also loaned the flags. Other students brought their garb from home.
Ana Shack, a seventh grader, wore a dress representative of her mother's Austrian heritage. Shack, who visits her mother's homeland every year, said being at the event is fun because it's a "great opportunity to get to know other countries," she said.
Genevieve Overmyer, a sixth grader, wore a Mexican wedding dress that her mother bought in college.
"This is a fun even because I get to try different foods," she said.
And taste they did. Pizza, jerk chicken, Irish soda bread and fare from places like Venezuela, the Middle East and Brazil were on the menu. Those in attendance also could pick up churros, a doughnut popular in Latin America.
Elisa Kersch, the mother of two daughters at the Middle School, brought along a bit of her native Brazil. Participants sampled risoli, or fried dough; cheese bread, a traditional snack and sipped Guarana, Brazil's most famous soft drink. Video and photos and other material was on display.
Kersch, who is from Sao Paolo, also shared her excitement that Brazil would soon host the World Cup and in 2016 the Summer Olympics. "There's so much to appreciate about Roosevelt," she said. "It is so welcoming."
Participants also got to make crafts. Lilly Lawson and Marta Rohner demonstrated how to make Ojos de Dios, a traditional Mexican yarn craft.
In another room, Elaine Nikolov, an eighth grader, and others, made piñatas.
This is Nikolov's first cultural fair, and she loved it.
"I wanted to experience what it was like before I went to high school," said Nikolov, who was crafting a piñata of Minnie Mouse. "I wanted to get a feel for all the cultures here and have some memories."
While it has stayed the same for the past few years, the event, sponsored by the school's Diversity Club and PTO, has grown in significance, said Marjorie McInerney, who teaches Spanish and helps organize the extravaganza.
The school is becoming more culturally aware, she said, partly because of contributions from the home and programs in school. As many as 90 percent of the students take either Spanish, French or Italian at the middle school. While foreign language is optional at Lincoln and Willard, a growing number of students take Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French or Italian.
"This is a popular evening and it gives students a chance to take part in a richly diverse cultural evening," said Brenda Latzke, who teaches art at Roosevelt and helps organize the event. "We're proud of what we have here at Roosevelt."
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