West View students get creative with Aztec market

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Chocolate was one of the main ingredients at the Aztec market in West View Elementary School last week.

The other was imagination.

For 76 sixth-graders, textbook lessons and other sources on Latin America's early civilizations were transformed into a noisy, colorful Aztec marketplace where vendors sold their wares for the price of a few cacao beans, or in this case, Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels. At some stands, trading was so hot, the “money” was melting!

The event was the culmination of a unit on Latin America in Megan Carey's classroom. A teacher in the district for 18 years, she created the project about a decade ago. Her goal was to bring learning to life and give what the students had discovered more meaning.

“They get better and better. The kids take such ownership of the project,” the North Hills alumna and Ross Township resident said.

Each year, Carey said, she is more and more amazed at the creativity of her students. For three weeks, students study the Aztec culture and invent products that tie into it. They write compositions about their inventions, make paper ponchos decorated with Aztec symbols and create signage for their stands, which are set up on blankets in the school auditorium. Then, with a little help from parents and siblings, they make or bake the items they will sell.

Because chocolate was such an Aztec delicacy, students peddled chocolate-covered strawberries and pretzels, chocolate-drizzled popcorn balls, brownies and cupcakes.

Kendra Richards, 11, offered chocolate-dipped fruit kabobs of strawberry, pineapple and banana. Her sister helped her skewer the fruit.

Maddie Frazier, 12, constructed edible chocolate temples, layered and hand decorated. She called her dessert stand CaCao Cupcake Heaven.

“The Aztecs had lots of temples,” she explained.

Green icing represented the swamps on the edge of Aztec lands. Gold and green decorations called to mind the metal and jade that the culture offered to their gods.

Joey Veneziale, 12, crafted shields.

“It was really fun. It took me a while, but my parents helped,” he said.

Katlyn Imler, 11, marketed wooden plaques painted gold with Aztec symbols representing the ideas of motion, a house, a knife, a deer and others.

There were handmade maracas, baskets made of ice-pop sticks, dream-catchers, clay statues, fans, flutes, rain sticks, good-luck charms and lots of beaded bracelets and amulet necklaces.

Laminated cards with pictures of the culture's gods were the creation of Zach Neil, 12.

“I am fond of Pokémon and Facebook cards,” he explained. “I like to collect them and baseball cards.”

On one side is a traditional picture of the deity. On the other is the god's story and the god's set of responsibilities in the human world.

“I made these for girls, too,” Zach said.

Sean Nolan brought the millennia together with his easy-to-make tacos. The 11-year-old offered separate plastic bags filled with a taco shell, chopped lettuce and shredded cheese. All the buyer needed to add was the meat filling, salsa and sour cream.

“(The Aztecs) had the meat,” he said. “They could have grown the lettuce.”

Of course, corn was the staple of their diet.

Nolan had fond memories of sharing his last two birthday celebrations with his classmates.

“My mom and grandma came with a Crock-Pot (with the taco filling),” he said.

The women also brought all the fixings for a taco party.

Before market time was over, the temple cakes at Maddie's CaCao Cupcake Heaven sold out, and so did the 22 headdresses that Ethan Harkness, 11, created. Each sold for 4 cacao beans.

“I'm surprised I sold out,” Ethan said of his construction-paper-and-feather design.

He was pleased, but when asked if he would eat his “money” collected in a little plastic bag, Ethan answered as a true child of the antibacterial age: “I won't eat the money. It's been in tons of hands.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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