UI International Programs' Japan Outreach Coordinator Yume Hidaka helps Van Allen Elementary students, from left, Nile Latcham, Cole Piercy and Molly Cox, with folding origami during the school's International Day on Monday in North Liberty. (Press-Citizen / Matthew Holst)
By Brian Morelli, The Iowa City Press-Citizen
Van Allen Elementary students got to try something different Monday — dancing to Afro-Cuban beats.
“It’s cool and different,” said Austin Carter, 8, a third-grader.
Van Allen had a school-wide assembly with special guests, the University of Iowa Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble, as part of the first annual International Day. The purpose was to expose students to dances, games, art projects and other traditional customs of a variety of cultures.
After the musical demonstration got most of the students at the assembly up on their feet dancing, Austin, Emily Means, 9, a fourth-grader, and Paytience Robertson, 8, a third-grader, sat in a circle before getting dismissed to an afternoon of small-group presentations by parents, teachers and other visitors with a tradition to share.
“I couldn’t really see, but it was still fun,” Robertson said.
Danetta Dobre, 11, a sixth-grader, went on to a demonstration of tinikling a popular dance of the Philippines.
“I think International Day is pretty cool,” Dobre said. “I think it is important because if there is a specific culture that makes them not eat different food or wear different clothes and kids tease them, it is important for people to know it is not who they are, it is what their culture demands.”
Joshua Kwok, 11, Traevis Buchanan, 11, and Dillon Crowell, 11, were sitting around after the dance assembly. For them, they appreciated the break from the regular school day.
“This was definitely more fun than music or P.E.,” Crowell said.
Buchanan said he appreciated how the presenters tried to explain the origins of the music and dance.
“I like that when they were playing the music, they tried to tell us a lot about what the music represents,” Buchanan said.
Music teacher Sarah Fairfield and art teacher Lisa Hildebrand came up with the idea for International Day. They wanted to try to bring to life parts of their curriculum for the students, Fairfield said.
“The idea was to make these connections we don’t normally have time for,” Fairfield said.