WEST ORANGE, NJ – The 30th Annual International Fifth Grade Festival, held Dec. 16 at Kelly Elementary School, celebrated world diversity and the two teachers who first began the annual event. 

Former teachers Betty Byrne and Lois Zimmer first began the tradition at Kelly in 1986, then Pleasantdale. As the years passed, the school continued to grow in its diversity, making the program even more meaningful. The program began with the traditional “Parade of Nations,” including flags and many students dressed in native costumes. 

This year’s fifth grade represented more than 30 different nationalities. Through the use of traditional songs, dances, and cultural food dishes, Kelly Elementary students learned about the varied cultural backgrounds of their classmates. The luncheon also brought together students and their families while providing an opportunity to recognize and celebrate their diverse backgrounds.

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The fifth-grade students celebrated with songs and dances from across the world. Music teacher Deb Rees led the students in performances of “MacNamara’s Band” (Ireland), “Ocho Kandelikas” (Hannukah-Ladino), “an Albanian traditional dance, “Jana Gana Mana” (Indian National Anthem), “Sweet Potato” and “Mango Walk” (Jamaica), “Tingalayo” (Haiti), a Shel Silverstein poem translated into Hungarian, a guitar performance of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” (England), “Las Mananitas” (Central America), a Peruvian dance and Chilean folk song (Central America), “Get it Together” (Africa) and “My America” (United States). Several of the songs were performed in foreign languages. 

Fifth-grade teachers Mr. Carsillo, Mrs.Pacifico, Ms. Orange, Mrs. Fink, and Ms. Pavone were instrumental in putting the annual cultural afternoon together.  

Each student was responsible for creating a beautiful handmade flag, and a fact-filled illustrated poster about his or her native country, which adorned the cafeteria, and families and special guests then dined on an incredible smorgasbord provided by each student representing their own cultural background.

“Through their music and dance, our students have touched the hearts of all of us- and filled our buckets to the brim,” said Kelly Principal Dr. Joanne Pollara. “The fifth-grade musical performance reminds us that in every culture the language of music reflects the joys and sometimes the sorrows of life. It brings us joy and comfort. It helps us to celebrate the goodness and light in each other. Sometimes when words fail, music speaks. We heard the voices of our fifth graders loud and clear.”

To see all the photos and a video from the International Festival, click here.