Students travel globe with Passport to the Arts

Eunice Lee

Hundreds of children chanted and clapped as dancers wearing colorful robes swirled across the Willard Elementary School gym Friday night as part of the school’s annual Passport to the Arts.

The event, sponsored by the school’s PTA, is held every year to promote awareness of diverse cultures, said Amy Teschner, co-chairwoman of the Cultural Arts Committee of the Willard PTA.

“It brings art together with multiculturalism,” she said. “It’s a really popular event. The kids love it.”

The festivities began with a performance by fourth- and fifth-graders in the school chorus. The chorus members beat African drums and bamboo sticks as they performed folk songs from Brazil, Africa and the Philippines.

The chorus incorporates multicultural songs throughout the year, but members rehearsed songs for this performance for about two months, chorus director Hillary Schroer said.

“I think that it’s really important for kids to see other cultures,” Schroer said. “It’s kind of hard, especially in North Shore affluent areas, to get experience in different cultures … but I think the school’s done a great job of bringing it in.”

The event continued downstairs in the gym, where children could visit stations representing different countries and create crafts from each culture. Flags from around the world lined the walls behind each station. After completing a craft, students received a stamp in a mock passport.

Parent volunteers helped the students create international craft pieces, such as worry dolls from Central America, origami boxes from Japan and kente cloth from Africa.

Tracy Egan held her two daughters’ finished crafts as the 5- and 10-year-olds ran from craft station to craft station.

“I think it’s great to introduce them to other cultures through arts and crafts, particularly the younger kids,” she said. “And when they go home they hopefully learn more about the different countries via their parents or books from the library.”

The most popular station was the henna painting table, where students got their own henna tattoos. Henna tattoos are featured in the event every year because the students enjoy them so much, Teschner said.

Later in the evening, two performance groups danced on the gym floor as the children took a break from crafts to look on. The Ala Nar Dancers, who specialize in Middle Eastern dance, performed Turkish, Moroccan and Egyptian dances. When one performer balanced a sword on her head, students in the audience cheered.

Students enjoy the show, especially when they recognize the performers, said Anne Viner, a parent volunteer who organized the acts. Kindergarten teacher Frances Blair-Collins and her husband, Stephan Collins, were part of a group that performed a Brazilian storytelling dance. Viner said Stephan Collins visits the children regularly to perform African drums and tell stories.

“It’s good because they see different things, hear different words, hear different rhythms,” Viner said.

Passport to the Arts is one of the most anticipated events the school hosts every year, Principal Shelley Carey said. Teachers encouraged their students to participate in the event, which between 200 and 300 people attended, she said.

“We strongly believe in our children seeing the world outside of their immediate community,” Carey said. “And so this is one way to give them some experience and an opportunity to share their own cultures as well as to learn about other people’s cultures.”

Reach Eunice Lee at [email protected]