International Club at Mt. Lebanon school treasures varied backgrounds

Celebrating cultural diversity

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When it comes to describing learning about other cultures, "cool" appears to be a favorite adjective for members of the International Club at Jefferson Middle School in the Mt. Lebanon School District.

"Some things are not what we would call normal, but they're still pretty cool," said Ha-Na Pohl, who was born in Korea.

"Bringing people together from various countries is really cool," said Luigino "Pippy" Croce, who is of Italian descent.

The public will get to see just how "cool" exploring other cultures can be next Thursday when the International Club presents its Sixth Annual International Night. The event will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria and gym of the school, 21 Moffett St.

The event celebrates the diversity and ethnic and cultural backgrounds in Mt. Lebanon through food, entertainment, games, raffles and more.

All proceeds benefit the Cali Orphanage Fund to support orphanages in Haiti and Cali, Colombia.

The evening will include a chance to sample homemade meals that are representative of students' ethnic heritages in a potluck format; live musical and dance performances; a fashion show of ethnic garb; and the raffling of baskets with international themes.

Ajay Wadhwani, who might perform a marimba solo as he did last year, will bring Indian food he cooks at home.

Allen Fry, who will again sell wallets and purses that he made out of duct tape, will contribute chips and salsa.

Sabine Hansen, who is French, will share the French bread that she and her mother baked, while Mara Harouse will bring an Irish stew that she and her mother plan to make. Alexa Drecnik and her mother will bake Polish haluski.

Alexa will label all the food items and list their contents for those who have allergies.

With more than 80 members, the International Club is the largest club in the school.

It was formed six years ago by sixth-grade geography teacher Ashlee Beckett, who is the club's coordinator. Teachers Molly Wetmore and Kristin Hertzog also help.

"I thought that creating a club where all students of all backgrounds and abilities were welcome would help to foster bonds between students and their families," Ms. Beckett said.

In addition to holding International Night, students hear guest speakers, cook international dishes, attend the annual Pittsburgh Folk Festival and take part in globally themed activities throughout the school year.

In addition to wanting students to recognize and respect their heritages, Ms. Beckett said she hoped they would acquire an understanding of the need to support their less fortunate peers outside the U.S.

Over the past six years, club members raised almost $8,000 for the nonprofit Cali Orphanage Fund operated by Ms. Beckett's uncle, Rich Spear, who will speak about the orphanages at International Night.

The fund serves as the umbrella organization for his orphanage work.

"It is really a terrific thing, and financially a big help," Mr. Spear, of South Fayette, said of the student involvement.

This year's proceeds will go toward constructing a kitchen in a rebuilt Haiti orphanage. The original facility was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

"Our students are very moved by the lives of these children and have true empathy towards them," Ms. Beckett said. "Knowing that 100 percent of their efforts in International Night go to help this great cause energizes our students in making this night special."

The fee to attend International Night is $5 per student, high school age and younger; $15 per family of three to five members; and $25 for families of six or more. Payment is only at the door by cash or check made payable to the Cali Orphanage Fund.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: First Published January 10, 2013 10:15 AM


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