MARSHALL - It's important to remember where you came from, but as the kids at Marshall Area Christian School demonstrated Friday, you can also have a lot of fun doing it. For an hour or so in the afternoon, the school cafeteria became a cultural fair with a historical twist.
"That's the ticket from when he came to America," Dillan DeCock said, pointing at a photo of a Red Star Line ship pass dated 1913. Next to information about the country of Belgium and a plateful of Belgian cookies, DeCock had hung up copies of documents from when his great-great-grandfather, Alois Vroman, emigrated to the United States. "And this is the paperwork they had to fill out," he said, moving to pictures of Vroman's naturalization papers.
DeCock and other third- and fourth-grade students at Marshall Area Christian School were taking part in a "Heritage Day," where they presented research projects on their family histories and all the places from which their ancestors came to the U.S.
The event and the displays were part of the students' social studies class, said teacher Karen DeGraaf.
"We had just started learning about immigration," and the hardships and opportunities immigrants faced in coming to America, DeGraaf said. As part of their studies, the kids did research projects on their family histories.
"This is the first year we've done it like this," DeGraaf said of the heritage displays. In the past, students presented their projects in class, but the presentations started getting more in-depth. "I thought we needed a bigger venue."
In addition to filling out a family tree going back four generations, students presenting at the Heritage Day event also shared photos, recipes and a little bit about the cultures their families were part of. That included snacks, like a spicy plantain dish from Ghana, where part of Keiton Walerius' family was from.
"It's called ampesi and corned beef stew," Walerius said. "I haven't tried it yet," he said, but he was more familiar with some of the other cultural items in his display, like the board game Mancala.
The displays the students built showed a variety of family stories. Several students' displays represented more than one country. Rose Hanson had marked out a map showing the different places her ancestors emigrated from, including Germany, Poland and Sweden.
"And they all went to Minnesota," Hanson said. She said her favorite part of the project was going through photo albums and family histories. "I liked picking out scrapbook pictures to use."
Other students focused more on one branch or aspect of their family history. Kaylee Prins said her family turned out to be "100 percent Dutch," so her display was all about the Netherlands. Prins was even dressed up in a traditional Dutch bonnet and wooden shoes.
"They're called clogs," she said.
Across the aisle, Grayce Metheny's display was about the "Italian side" of her family. In researching her family tree, Metheny said she found out, "We're more Italian than I thought we were." She said she learned other surprising things, too.
"I thought it was my great-grandpa who came over from Italy, but it was actually my great-grandma. She came when she was a girl, with her family," Metheny said.
The reception from parents and teachers at the event was enthusiastic, but DeGraaf said the best part was seeing the interest the students showed in learning about each other.
"The kids are excited to do this," she said.