B’ville students can celebrate their first week back from winter break by delving into the hive of various cultures represented within their community. The inaugural Baker Culture Festival takes place next Thursday, Feb. 28.
The festival, which is open to the entire community, is the brainchild of Baker junior Aidan Priest, who presented his plan for the festival to the Baldwinsville Board of Education at its Feb. 11 meeting.
“The goal of this program is to show the diversity that we have,” Priest said.
Priest said he was inspired to bring the event to Baldwinsville after taking part in InterFaith Works of CNY’s annual “Community Wide Dialogue to End Racism” between Baker and Corcoran High School students. Each year, a group of students from each school “shadows” each other for a few days at their respective schools.
“Kids were coming up to each other and asking, ‘Did you try the Kenyan chicken at the cultural festival?’” Priest said.
The festival, Priest said, is a chance for students and teachers alike to share aspects of their culture that they normally would not have the opportunity to share during the school day.
About two dozen students and teachers have signed up to display their traditional customs, clothing and cuisine at the festival.
“It started with the high school, and now it’s district-wide,” Priest said.
With the help of Baker librarian Leslie Cartier, Priest has lined up locally sourced entertainment for the Baker Culture Festival, including Greek dancers from St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church in Syracuse, a Scottish pipe band and social studies teacher Siobhan Loughran, who is Irish, on accordion. Priest said he was hoping to schedule an African drumming group as well.
Leading up to the festival, Priest and his fellow student festival organizers will be interviewing their classmates about what culture means to them. The interviews will be incorporated into a video.
Superintendent Matt McDonald said Priest first approached him about the possibility of a cultural festival early in the school year. He said his wife is Turkish, so the family will have their own table about Turkey and its culture.
McDonald said the festival is a great introduction to a much-needed conversation about diversity in the school district. He said district officials are looking into diversity training for adults after recent incidents, which he did not specify.
“We’ve recently had a few serious things that just aren’t nice. And when I say this, I’m referring to adults — not the kids — adults, and the way they treat each other and talk to each other because of the color of their skin, or they’re gay or lesbian, or whatever it may be,” McDonald said. “What a better way to have a kickoff to the things we need to do in our district as it relates to diversity with what Aidan’s doing and his friends are doing?”
McDonald emphasized that students like Priest have been the driving force not only behind the festival, but behind changing attitudes about tolerance and culture within their community.
“I am so very proud of you and all your friends,” McDonald said. “Thank you for being a role model for all of us, because we’re going to follow your lead and start to educate each other.”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.