Students at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Academy Celebrate the Customs of Their Heritage
“God must be a Trini!” exclaimed one proud first-grader onstage just before introducing a lively performance that showcased the Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago cultures during the “Carnival Around the World” event May 18 at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Academy (SFA). The Crown Heights school has opened its curtains in the school auditorium for more than 30 years during its annual spring performance.
Days before Pentecost marked the Church calendar – on the cusp of Ordinary Time and the culmination of Easter, the faculty and students resurrected the time before Lent through the celebration of Carnival. Traditionally, the festival takes place in many Catholic countries in the last days and hours before Lent.
For the students at SFA, the evening marked months of not only practicing their dance routines or reciting their scripts, but also months of learning about different cultures.
Before the seventh-grade performance, student Katiana Hubert did the sign of the cross backstage.
“I’m asking the Lord to be there with me and help me make my performance go right,” explained Hubert.
Rows of elementary students dressed in flamboyant costumes walked down the aisles between the crowds while they waved flags from nine different countries: Italy, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Panama, the U.S. and India.
“They have a lot of spirit and they have a lot of fun,” said Principal Danielle Gonzalez. “If they’re representing their own country or other countries, they really give their all and the joy and the excitement that led up to this was really fantastic.”
Gonzalez accentuated the fact that the spring showcase was the product of a full community effort. Parents took the time to help out. Students from grades pre-k, first, second, fifth and seventh wrote their own scripts. Teachers performed alongside their students, guiding them past stage fright until the final applause. Besides jumping and smiling in green and yellow-feathered headdresses from Jamaica, or red and green tutus for Italy, students also practiced their skills in English language arts, public speaking as well as performing arts.
The sights and the sounds of the Carnival festival also came alive thanks to one choreographer who knew exactly what it was like to stand in the students’ shoes. That’s because Jessica Persaud walked the same school hallways from kindergarten until the eighth grade. She said SFA is like a second home to her, so once she heard about the year’s Carnival theme, she couldn’t wait to bring her Guyanese upbringing to life.
“I’ve seen the Labor Day Parade and the floats and all the costumes,” said Persaud. “So when I heard about the theme I was like ‘oh my goodness’ especially Brazil and Samba, it was the most fun theme that I could ever think of. So it was awesome.”
The performances included dance numbers from “Mambo Italiano” for Italy and “Salaam-e-Ishq” for India’s Diwali Festival to the most famous and exuberant Brazilian holiday that combines Catholicism and lively African ancestry through the sounds of “Carnaval en las Tablas” and “Carnaval en la Central.”
But more than just dancing, the students also presented the historical background and facts about the different countries, which helped to embrace the many cultures they were learning about.
Kamla Millwood says her daughter has danced at the West Indian parade since she was three years old. While her first-grader was in her element onstage, the dialogue in the skits struck her as a learning moment as a parent.
“It’s wonderful because we’re in New York. It’s a diverse place, it’s a melting pot and it’s just so wonderful to see that the community, the Church is actually representing the community by having all the different flags here,” said Millwood.
“Our eyes were open for the first time seeing other countries. So it’s not just a West Indian thing, it’s a world thing, which I think was really great for them to be all inclusive in this event.”
Rounding out the performances, the student-emcees brought to focus its main message for the night, uniquely Franciscan at its core: “Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with all of us.”