Lessons learned Thursday at Shenendehowa High School East included what referees yell at a French Canadian hockey player who commits a cheap shot, how to dance the cha-cha and just how challenging it is to master “huipil,” the Guatemalan art of embroidery.
From the Little Theater, where aspiring American Idols belted out Santana tunes, fables were told in French, and one student danced on her toes to the music of “Memoirs of a Geisha,” the unconventional school day was devoted to the annual Languages Other Than English Festival.
Signs proclaiming “Shalom,” “Salvete,” “Bienvenue” and “Willkommen” greeted visitors to the multi-sensory event that featured international foods in the cafeteria, spirited vocal performances and a plethora of artwork decorating the shelves in the library. The displays were the result of imaginative 10th through 12th-graders in Spanish, French, German and Latin studies at the high school.
The festival gives the various language classes at the school the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the cultures and peoples of the world.
Students waiting for their turn in the theater spotlight cheered on their friends and shook maracas in lieu of clapping.
“It was embarrassing but fun,” said Ashleigh Panunzio, a junior who danced the cha-cha on stage with her fellow Spanish scholars. “But our friends are being really supportive and not making fun of us.”
Language teachers dressed in festive garb helped corral kids onto stage for their acts and mouthed the words along with their students in the karaoke performance of Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.”
“They’ve all worked really hard to prepare,” said Spanish teacher Peggy Cowper. “We spent a lot of classroom time rehearsing, and believe me, I’m not the best instructor in the cha-cha.”
Wearing a hand-sewn kimono with a bright red obi, high school junior Sonya Langen was glowing after her solo ballet performance.
“I’m loving this,” said Langen. “I’m a competition dancer, so this is a great way to get practice.”
Although they weren’t earning extra credits for their moxie, the kids were gaining the respect of their peers.
“This was better than sitting in class,” said Renae Townsend, a senior who’s studied Spanish for several years. “I like Spanish and my parents want me to pursue it, but I’m going to major in marketing at Oneonta, because it’s hard to make a career out of languages.”
Displays in the library included a replica of a Roman tomb, a bug-eyed sculpture of third-century emperor Maximinus Thrax and glass-bead art depicting a green and yellow iguana in the style of the Huichol Indian culture of Mexico. An army of tiny Trojan warriors made of bright paper, battled it out on a piece of cardboard, and a pinata was molded, not in the shape of a donkey, but in a sphere with seven points, representing the seven deadly sins.
In the cafeteria, despite an international menu of bratwurst, sauerkraut and ensalada mixta, Chenkay Lacy and her friends chose decidedly American fare.
“I’m not big on exotic food,” said Lacy, dipping her fries in ketchup and cheese sauce. “But I did try the cinnamon stick Chodos.”
Lacy said she’s been learning the Spanish language since about third grade.
“It’s easy,” said Lacy. “I have an average in the 90s in Spanish; not even my English grade is that good.”