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SD 29 spends ‘family time’ in Springfield Gardens

The student marchers wore flags around their heads and ribbons across their chests, costumes on their bodies and medals around their necks.

But as the boisterous crowd from School District 29 wove its way through the streets of Springfield Gardens in a spirited parade Saturday, its abundant colors reflected two different sorts of celebrations.

The flags and costumes gave the students a chance to flaunt their ethnic origins, to proudly display the heritage they share with their parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters.

But the ribbons and medals told a unique story for every child who wore them. All the students who strutted their stuff Saturday had won academic honors, and they wore the prizes like champions.

Interim Acting Superintendent Michael Johnson said police had estimated about 8,000 people participated in the district’s “March of Excellence Parade,” a figure more than double what district officials had originally anticipated.

“The line kept getting longer and longer,” Johnson said, recalling how more and more students kept showing up for the parade, which began at 225th Street and Merrick Boulevard and ended at IS 59 at 132-55 Ridgedale St. “By the time we reached Sutphin and Merrick, the line reached all the way back to where we started.”

The march was merely the boisterous beginning to a day-long event called “Family Time in 29,” during which the Rosedale-based school district celebrated its diversity, student achievement, and literacy.

Flags representing assorted countries sprouted from nearly every post in the tall chain-link fence surrounding the school yard, into which the parade fed as the throng dispersed into a different sort of celebration — a literary one.

For the “Celebrity Readers” series, prominent local figures met with students in different classrooms at IS 59 to read stories and poems or chat about their careers.

Queens Village resident Swaranjit Singh told a classroom of students about the importance of tolerance. Members of his religion, Sikhism, have faced bias since Sept. 11 because of the distinctive turbans Sikh men wear on their heads.

“Everybody has their own religious beliefs,” he said. “We should respect everybody.”

The story he read, “The Five Fingered Family,” was a lesson in the importance of sticking together.

“If we are united, no one can harm us,” Singh said, giving as his example the five fingers of a hand: “If we put together, it becomes a fist.”

Merle English, a veteran reporter for Newsday who was born on the island of Jamaica, recounted for a small group of students how her lifelong passion for reading and writing eventually brought her to the United States, where she has lived for more than two decades.

Her lessons were drawn straight from life.

“Always stay in the front where people can see you and know you’re there,” she told her students, some of whom were shyly hesitant when told to move their seats into a circle.

But she soon jumped into the importance of literacy. “Writing is something for everyone to know,” she said. “You can’t do anything unless you can express yourself in writing.”

She pointed out a reporter’s requisite powers of observation by identifying some students’ heritage based on their outfits but not without saying a word about her own attire.

“I was told you’d all be wearing something that reflects your culture,” she said.

Bianca Bernard, 9, a fourth grader at PS 134, donned the green and yellow flag of Jamaica around her head as well as a pair of academic medals around her neck — one of them from a science project in which she compared the heart rates of children and adults as they played video games.

“Kids’ hearts beat faster than grown-ups’ because they get very excited,” she declared with the authority of an accomplished researcher.

Her mother, PS 134 PTA President Patricia Bernard, had decked herself out in the colors of the Jamaican flag by wearing a yellow shirt reading, “The Hollis School,” and a green Nike jacket on top of it.

“It’s absolutely wonderful,” she said of the day’s events. “It brought everyone out. Usually we don’t have this large a turnout” for district events.

“I think it’s a fantastic day,” said state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans). “It’s showing the importance of diversity and family. This is excellent, what the community should be about.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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