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SHOW & TELL - Culture Day focuses on students’ ethnic backgrounds

November 26, 2010

WOONSOCKET – Sometimes school work can be fun. Especially if that school work is a project that allows students to tell about their family history and ethnic backgrounds.
Ousamequin Martinez, a middle school sixth grader, found that out while working on his cluster’s Culture Day Exhibit at the Villa Nova Street building.
Students could complete an essay as part of their project assignment or work on preparing a meal item that members of their family would have offered in their ethnic homeland.
Martinez and his brother Christian, another middle schooler, both worked on projects for the Exhibit but from different perspectives of their family history.
Ousamequin traced his mother’s ties to the Wampanoag tribe for his project and Christian in turn looked at their father’s ethnic ties to the Taino tribe that is native to Puerto Rico.
As a result, Christian’s project offered visitors details on the highlights of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the life of a family there, and Ousamequin, the story of Wampanoag life in New England before the Pilgrims came to live in Plimoth.
“I think it’s interesting since we have to write about my culture,” Ousamequin Martinez said. Martinez’ mother gave him the tribal name of Yellow Feather that he uses in school. Christian also has a tribal name, Thunder Foot, and their mother, Tiondra, is known as White Rapids with the Wampanoag, the students explained.
As part of his project, Ousamequin included a description of the Wampanoag’s as a seaside tribe that made good use of the bounty available in local waters. Tribal members also raised corn and beans and wore clothing made of deerskins, Ousamequin explained in the project.
In addition to researching their family background, the students were also given a writing assignment in which they pretended to be a tour guide talking to visitors to their chosen country or nation.
Ousamequin wrote his tour as one beginning “in a floating canoe” ten feet long headed to Plimoth. A Sachem, or chief, was paddling the canoe and couldn’t talk with the visitors since he only spoke Algonquin, Ousamequin said.
Ousamequin said that while doing research on his project he visited a Website put up by Plimoth Plantation that includes a Wampanoag education site and provides information on the tribe and their relations with the English colonists arriving in 1620. You can visit the recreated Plimoth Plantation today for an admission fee of $14 for children and $24 for adults, Ousamequin said. He also found out some facts about the Wampanoag tribe that lives on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard today. While numbering many thousands before the Pilgrims arrived, the illness and warfare that followed the colonists arrival in the New World killed many of the Wampanoags and there are just over 4,500 in the area today, according to the student.
There is an effort under way in Mashpee and on Martha’s Vineyard today to revive the Algonquin language by teaching tribal young people the words their forefathers spoke, Ousamequin noted in his report.
“Motompomwunee,” he said, means good morning in that language and “Quinties,” hello.
Another student with Native ties in her family, Aaliyah Tilson, did her project on the Pequot tribe of Connecticut and wore a deer-skin shirt decorated with polished purple and white quahog shells while sitting in the room where the ethnic meals were offered to students and their parents and teachers participating in the Cultural Day Exhibition.
The Pequots, who also raised corn and relied on seafood for their diet, were known to fight with the Narragansett Tribe based in Rhode Island, Tilson, whose father is a tribe member, said.
“One of our traditions is to tell stories about tribe’s pow wows and also to make flap-jacks,” Aaliyah said. In addition to creating a poster board display of her project research, Aaliyah also cooked a platter of flap jacks, small pancakes, for her fellow students to taste during the Exhibition.
The student projects included food from France and Canada, Puerto Rico, Laos, Portugal and many others. Joshua Warchal brought in an Au Gratin potato dish as part of his project on France and Kendra Cote served slices of Canadian meat pie her grandfather, Al Bernier, makes for Al’s Place Restaurant. Neftalie Ortiz brought in a dish of yellow rice and beans for his food offering and also included details on the El Morro historic park in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Justin Gudaitis wrote about Portugal and Ferdinand Magellan and the Belem Tower, a historic site of the Age of Discovery in Lisbon. Magellan, Gudaitis noted, was the first explorer known to have circumnavigated the world. There was also a project by Anthony DeChristofaro on the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy and a project by Cecelia Jandik showing her family’s ties to Sweden and its custom of attributing Christmas presents to a gnome known as Tomka. Swedish children open their gifts on Christmas eve and set out carrots for Tomka and his reindeer, rather than milk and cookies, she reported.
Erica Berek, the team English teacher, said the participating students not only did academic research on their topics but also spent time with their families learning about their ethnic backgrounds for the project. The students began work on their projects in October and completed their work with the Exhibition and a reading of their reports for their fellow students and teachers before the Thanksgiving break began.
Jonathan Cournoyer-Masters, didn’t work on the project himself, but after touring the exhibition said he would like to next year.
“I think it went really well. The students all worked hard on this and they have done an excellent job,” Jonathan said. “They really put their thoughts into this,” he added.
Also working on the project with the students were the team’s math teacher, Tara Hudson, science teacher, Trish Quimette, and social studies teacher, Kathy Thomas.

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