Travelling the globe in a high-school gymnasium

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Golden history: Tenth-grader Summer Stedge wears a ruana draped over her shoulder, which her Colombian grandmother working beside her says is like that worn by workers at coffee plantations. Stedge holds up a black cloth studded with reproductions of famous artifacts from the Museum of Gold in the nation’s capital.  See image gallery.

GUILDERLAND — The last day before spring break, April 18, was the culmination of almost a year’s work for Guilderland High School’s International Club, when it held its cultural fair.

Students staffed booths from countries around the world, serving food, and relating interesting facts.

Rashmina Sayeeda, an 11th-grader whose heritage is Bangladeshi, said she was participating for the second year in a row. She said she can speak Bangla, her family’s native language. Gesturing to the bangles, hand-drum, pottery, dolls, and books from Bangladesh on the table, she said, “I just have all this stuff at home, and I just like to show it.”

At another table, 10th-grader Summer Stedge and her Colombian grandmother, Alicia Micale, showed items including a black cloth studded with reproductions of famous artifacts — brooches and pendants — held in the Museum of Gold in Bogotá. Micale explained that many ancient artifacts were shaped like birds, snakes, frogs, or other animals that were traditionally seen as gods. Years ago, in times of drought or sickness, these items would be taken out in boats and thrown into the river as a “sacrifice,” Micale said.

Another table was devoted to Eritrea and Ethiopia, on the Horn of Africa, the continent’s easternmost part. The table displayed including laminated sheets showing the shapes of the syllabary with which the Amharic language is written.

Sarah Gebreyes’s mother is from Eritrea, and her father was from Ethiopia. Meryam Legesse, who stood beside her, is herself from Ethiopia.

Legesse said in unaccented English that she came to Guilderland “like four days before the start of school,” in the fall of 2018. “And then I found her,” Legesse added brightly, briefly wrapping an arm around Gebreyes’s shoulder. In Guilderland, the two not only became friends, but found out they are actually cousins, Legesse said.

[See more photos from the cultural fair]

The fair has been held annually for over 30 years, according to Spanish teacher Meghan Tidd.

Tidd serves as co-advisor to the International Club along with special-education teacher Jim Skopas. She said there were close to 50 booths this year, representing countries as well as related clubs such as UNICEF and the Muslim Club.

Senior Michelle Costanzo chaired the Cultural Fair this year. She said the International Club met about once a week until about two months before the event, when the pace sped up to about three times a week.

Costanzo also said that any funds made from the few events at the fair that are not free-of-charge — such as henna hand tattoos — go into the fair fund and toward the scholarship the club gives out each year to a senior who is active in the International Club and who shows leadership.

Third-graders from just one or two elementary schools each year have usually been bused to the high school for the event, said Tidd. This was the first time that the third-graders from all five of Guilderland’s elementary schools were able to attend the fair. The first hour of the day was blocked off for them, and then, from 9:30 through the end of the day, high-school students and teachers were able to visit.

Lines blurred as some students enthusiastically represented countries that were not those of their own ancestors. At the Nepal booth, for instance, four girls showed visitors that country’s flag and told them it’s the only one in the world that is not a rectangle.

They wore long colorful silk skirts. None of the girls were from Nepal, but one of them said, “We have a friend who is.”

“International Club focuses on promoting the beauty of the diversity in Guilderland and all around the world,” Tidd said. ​

More Guilderland News

  • In a Jan. 5 letter to the Surface Transportation Board, village attorney Allyson Phillips writes that Altamont is opposed to CSX’s attempted acquisition of Pan Am Systems because the running of a 1.7-mile-long train twice per day over the Main Street railroad crossing would leave parts of the village inaccessible to emergency responders for as long as 10 minutes.  

  • The biggest factor in the revenue jump is the state’s commitment to make Foundation Aid to schools whole. “It looks like that three-year phase-in, at least from the governor’s perspective, is going to happen, so that’s tremendous news for our school district and school districts throughout the state,” Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for business, Neil Sanders, said on Tuesday.

  • Albany County has just directed schools to change from a 10-day period of isolation for infected students to a five-day period, so Guilderland is following suit, said Superintendent Marie Wiles.

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