Around the world in 18 classrooms

 Ann Arbor Open’s annual Multicultural Fair is an international delight

The seventh and eighth grade classes teamed up to fill the auditorium with sounds, sights and facts about all 54 countries in Africa. The drum circle was led by one seventh grade student, who taught his classmates African drumming in the weeks before the Multicultural Fair.

By Tara Cavanaugh, AAPS News Service

A family of four clutches their passports, fresh from India. Pairs of students consider Italy before deciding on Greece. Another traveler gets lost in the bustling crowd, trying to choose between Fiji or Hawaii.

Although this sounds like a major international airport, it was the scene at Ann Arbor Open’s multicultural fair on Dec. 21, the annual fundraiser that raises money for the school’s library.

For the fair, each classroom picks a country and fills the room floor to ceiling with information on history, economics, geography and culture. This means students spend plenty of time on posters and PowerPoints—but they don’t stop there.

Blue icicle lights, signaling a frigid climate, graced the low doorway to a classroom modeling Russia, where students showed off handmade Faberge eggs. A few doors down in Italy, the Alps stood tall, made by students with paper mache. In Guatemala, a construction paper jungle provided lessons about the animals that live in the rainforest.

Each visitor had his or her own passport, stamped at the entrance of each country.

Student Sophie Jaworski, 11, stamped passports as the crowd entered India. She said her class studied India for a month, and she particularly enjoyed her individual project on the country’s food.

Hallways and classrooms were packed with students pulling the hands of patient parents and eagerly pointing out what they made. But even above the din, the drumbeat from Africa drew hoards into the most spectacular room of the night.

Visitors to the small auditorium learned about all 54 countries in Africa and clapped along to a drum circle played by a dozen students on the stage.

“One of our seventh graders has been taking African drumming ever since he was three years old,” said Aina Bernier, a seventh and eighth grade teacher. “He’s been giving lessons to the other seventh graders and leading drum circles for over a week. It wouldn’t be the same without the musical component.”

Wearing a long black and white patterned caftan, Bernier said the small auditorium was filled with the work of 107 students. This fair was the first time both grades worked together to model an entire continent.

“They’ve been working on their individual projects since Thanksgiving, and then we’ve been putting together the entire room for about a week,” she said. “They’ve learned an enormous amount.”

Bernier stood near a 25-foot-tall Victoria Falls waterfall, its curled paper currents flowing gracefully (and aided by a strategically placed box fan).

Poster-sized circles hanging from the ceiling provided more than decoration. “Every country in Africa is represented by these hanging posters,” Bernier explained, “and they represent their relative size to the rest of the countries.” Figuring out how to size the circles relative to each other was part of the students’ math unit.

“It fits into our philosophy of giving students choice of what they study and doing cross curricular projects wherever possible,” said Ann Arbor Open Principal Kit Flynn, noting that this year’s fair raised more than $1500 for library materials. “The fair has always been pretty fabulous, but this year was a pretty incredible one.”


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