Search for District 300 diversity results in festival showing how much there is
By Dave Gathman email@example.com October 29, 2013 2:04AM
Los Chinelos performs classic Latin American folk dances at the recent School District 300 Multi-Cultural Festival. | Submitted
Updated: December 1, 2013 7:34AM
ALGONQUIN — “It’s late. But how great is it to be part of District 300 tonight?” a member of the Community Unit School District 300 board said at 10 o’clock Monday night.
Board member Stephen Fiorentino spoke after the board had heard lengthy presentations about how teen leaders are being mobilized to suppress bullying in the middle schools; how another group of students has turned the long-unused Jacobs High School greenhouse into a source of vegetables for the hungry; and how a celebration of the schools’ cultural diversity had attracted hundreds of people to a “District 300 Multi-Cultural Festival” at Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee.
And that doesn’t even include the half-dozen young actors from the Carpentersville Middle School Drama Club who had given board members a sample of the comic play “Altar Egos” that they will present Nov. 7-8, or the fifth-graders at Dundee Highlands Elementary School in West Dundee who have arranged to talk out the school’s problems over lunch with their principal, or the teachers who are figuring out new ways to teach kids how to think, read and analyze by doing math problems.
It was the Multi-Cultural Festival that was most obvious to people from outside the school district, as the festival took over Spring Hill Mall’s center court on Sunday, Oct. 20. And it was organized, Superintendent Michael Bregy said, by two parents from Algonquin.
Bregy said an African-American parent, Paul Dodson, came to him with concerns about “lack of diversity” in many geographic areas in the district.
But actually, Dodson discovered, the district — which includes such mainly white Anglo areas as Hampshire and Pingree Grove as well as the largely Hispanic Carpentersville and the somewhat mixed areas of East and West Dundee, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills and Gilberts — is incredibly diverse.
In fact, board President Anne Miller said, families within the district speak 60 different languages at home.
Dancing to kung fu
So Dodson began working to organize a multi-ethnic fair that would celebrate all these different cultures in one place on one weekend afternoon. Nancy Zettler, a white Anglo parent with a multiracial family, volunteered to help him. Mall manager Amy Prew offered them the space to do it. Mike Contreras, an athletics supervisor for Dundee Township Park District, joined in as a third co-chair of the planning committee.
The result on Oct. 20 offered samplings of a wide array of cultures, some offered by District 300 students and some by adults from outside the school system. They included:
Artifacts from Chile.
Bagpipe playing from Scotland.
Demonstrations of kung fu from China.
The Elgin Community College Steel Drum Band playing Caribbean tunes.
Traditional Mexican dancers from Ballet Folklorico and Los Chinelos.
Polish music and dancing by Westfield Community School students.
Nizhoni Ward of Parkview Elementary School, performing as Junior Miss Indian Chicago.
African-American step dancing.
Puerto Rican dancing.
Brazilian jazz from the Carpentersville Middle School Band.
Native American dancers.
Student displays about the cultures of Greece, Zambia, Ireland and Scotland.
“One security guard said he had never seen so many people in the mall at one time,” Bregy said.
“This started as a dream two years ago, a dream to get the community together,” Dodson said. “And the community did come together. The Boys & Girls Club, ECC, everybody was there. We were amazed at the crowds all day.
“We had some ‘good bad’ problems,” Dodson added. “They ran out of food in the mall food court. And we ran out of tables for people to display their things.”
“I’m hoping we can do even better next year,” Zettler said.
While praising the event, board member Susie Kopacz said there is one place in District 300 where “diversity” still is lacking: The board of education itself is made up entirely of white people. Kopacz hinted that she would like to see Dodson run for the board in the next election.