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Little Neck students celebrate diversity with food

With spring rolls, Korean pancakes, Irish soda bread, baked ziti and an unimaginable variety of other foods at every turn, PS 94 in Little Neck transformed itself Friday morning into a culinary United Nations for the school’s annual International Food Festival.

Children and parents in vividly colored costumes served and sampled an array of homemade food representing the cultural heritage of the students and their families as music and laughter rang throughout the school.

Each class participates in the festival, organizer Susan Mazzo said, and tables were set up in hallways outside every classroom throughout the building to give students easy access to the food.

Chinese fried dumplings, American favorites like shrimp, pizza, and bagels, chocolate-filled Russian pancakes, Korean sushi, Greek cheesecakes called tiropetes and Indian bread served with a spicy sauce were only a few of the foods represented. Leftover food was delivered to organizations that help feed the homeless, Mazzo said

Mary Frees, co-president of the Parent Association at PS 94, described the event as a way to expose students to different cultures.

“It’s about teaching the children about other cultures and heritages and just to have a different experience,” she said.

Dr. Doris Marmorek, a now-retired teacher who worked with students learning to speak English, began the festival in her own classes in 1986.

“The principal suggested the next year that we open it up to the whole school,” Marmorek said as she balanced a large plate of food on one hand. “It’s been very successful ever since. It’s great.”

Principal JoAnn Barbeosch, who was honored at the School Board 26 meeting last Thursday, said the festival was a way to recognize the many cultures represented in the PS 94 student body.

“We celebrate everyone’s cultural heritage this way,” she said.

Several members of School Board 26 attended the event. Between bites of vegetable dumplings, SB 26 member Vivian Danziger marveled at the diversity of the PS 94 community.

“When I was a kid in Brooklyn there were Jewish kids and Italian kids,” she said. “Things have changed — I think it’s wonderful.”

Among tastes of Greek spinach pie, American rice pudding, Greek baklava and a Brazilian dessert featuring coconut called bombocada, music and dancing could be heard throughout the halls.

A group of kindergartners smiled and bounced happily around to the guitar music of Marie O’Connell, a former Parent Association president who strolled from class to class to play for the students.

In a room of fifth-graders, student Kelly McCann mesmerized her classmates with Irish step dancing, moving smoothly around the room in a brightly colored red costume.

Rosemary Pepe, a teacher new to the school, said working to bring the festival to life was “really a lot of fun.”

As Barbara Friedman steered her third-grader daughter Sarah toward a taste of the Russian pancakes, the former PS 94 student reflected on the festival.

“It’s exciting for me to see that so many parents are so involved,” she said. “I think it’s very nice.”

Elissa Cushman, whose daughter Rebecca attended her third-grade class in a costume typical of Eastern Europe, agreed.

“It’s a really beautiful experience,” she said. “It makes the school like a United Nations.”

While school board member Steven Barlow happily consumed a plate full of Chinese noodles with chopsticks and complimented the food as delicious, SB 26 member Incha Kim praised the PS 94 festival.

“It’s through this kind of event that children get to know each other better and so do parents,” she said. “It’s so inclusive, like one big extended family.

“Sharing food is sharing love,” she said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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