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Chambersburg sixth-graders get lesson in cultures

October 14, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Through their first five years in school, students in the 17 elementary schools in the Chambersburg Area School District may have little opportunity to experience different cultures, until the sixth grade when they all come together in Chambersburg Area Middle School.

On Friday, 670 sixth graders took part in Diversity In Youth Day, experiencing through sights, sounds, touch and even taste the cultural spectrum found within the district's boundaries.

Beo Die Kang, a South Korean student at Wilson College was frying up Korean pancakes, while at another table students cautiously sampled spanakopita, a Greek pastry of spinach, feta cheese and filo leaves.

At another table a sign informed students that, by the sixth grade, French children "have already chosen a career path to follow."

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Wilson student Noriko Akai was a few feet away, introducing students to the Japanese paper folding art, origami.

Middle school is the first time some of these students, who come from rural and urban communities, share the same classrooms, said Melissa Schad, who spent two years organizing the event with Rochelle Wagaman. "This is the first time some of them see different cultures, races and ethnicities."

The two women began work on the project in 2004 when they were selected for Leadership Franklin County, a program of the Greater Chambersburg Chamber Foundation. The event was largely funded by the Chambersburg Area Education Foundation, Schad said.

Diversity In Youth was, in part, a reaction to racial and ethnic tensions at Faust Junior High School in recent years, Schad said.

"This was supposed to be basically a prevention program, but we wanted to make it fun," Schad said.

"The kids seem very engaged ... the enthusiasm is there," Wagaman said.

"French," said Marshay Ryan when asked what she was learning.

"I really liked Germany ... There's no speed limit on some of the roads and the cookies are good," said Hugh Wissinger.

Cheyenne Kelso found the disability awareness demonstrations most interesting, trying to build a pyramid of blocks wearing a pair of gloves designed to make the task difficult.

Aubrey Hammond got to experience, briefly, what it is like to be in a wheelchair. It prompted her to think about the difficulties of being disabled.

"They probably aren't treated like other people," she said.

The district has become increasingly diverse in recent years, particularly with the influx of Hispanics, and Superintendent Joseph Padasak said additional steps will be taken to assimilate those students.

"We're starting a cultural awareness team in the district," said Padasak, noting that about 20 different languages are spoken in the schools. He envisions the team helping immigrant parents bridge some of the cultural gaps.

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