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Munhall students get passport to world cultures

| Thursday, May 24, 2007

To the students at Park Elementary School, it literally is a small world -- so small in fact, that it can fit inside their gymnasium.

Students, teachers and parent volunteers participated last week in the school's annual Celebration in Education Day, an event for the students in grades one through five. This year's theme was "It's a Small World," and the event had more than a dozen booths filled with food and activities from seven continents.

"When my teacher said that we were going to go to this, everyone jumped out of their seats and ran," said third-grader Noah Alexandroff, 9, of Munhall.

As Noah walked around the gym, he carried a plastic bag to hold all of his craft projects and a "passport" made of construction paper to keep track of all the activities he completed. Each student had an hour to roam about the gym and visit each of the booths.

At the South American booths, students ate chips and salsa while learning their colors in Spanish. At the Asian booths, they ate fortune cookies and folded origami paper into cups.

Parent Cindy Toth, 48, of Munhall, worked behind the European booth. Adorned with dyed green hair, green plastic beads and a bright red T-shirt that read Italian Village Pizza, she helped students sample Italian culture with pizza and showed them how to make beaded macaroni necklaces.

She was soon joined behind the booth by her daughter, Alexis Toth, a fifth-grader who watched as other students played a game where they tried to match countries to their flags.

"I think it helps to learn more about the continents and what they have in them," said Alexis, 10, of Munhall.

She explained that each grade was assigned a continent, and students spent about a month learning about that continent's culture and history. Her class had Europe.

Denise Stephenson, a second-grade teacher at the school, said that her students loved learning about Asia. They wrote haiku poems, listened to Russian folktales -- Russia is in both Asia and Europe -- and drew the maps of Asia and its countries that hung behind the booth.

"They especially liked the Sudoku puzzles," said Stephenson, 38, of West Mifflin.

She said the puzzles, which originated in Japan, helped to improve the students' problem-solving skills.

The Celebration in Education Day has been conducted for at least 10 years and usually is geography-related, said Katie Pugh, a third-grade teacher who helped organize the event.

Pugh, 28, of Munhall, said teachers stayed after school to plan activities and came in before the assembly to decorate. Parents spent a lot of time at school helping with the event, she said.

And in Alexis' opinion, it all pays off.

"We do it each year," said Alexis, "and every year was a lot of fun."

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