Lincoln Trail students trek around the world during HANDS event

Opening sights and senses, the 23rd annual Heritage and National Differences Study (HANDS) Around the World Event had students experiencing activities, listening to music and presentations and tasting food from 23 other cultures.

"Being from a small town, it's great for them to experience that the world is so much larger than what is around them and to try and appreciate differences," event coordinator Jama Grotelueschen said.

Lincoln Trail turned its classrooms into cultural hubs on Friday. Each room had a host, better known to students as a governor, who represented a different country, offering students unique opportunities to engage with various cultures.

Approximately 100 volunteers, consisting of community members, 50 foreign language Mahomet-Seymour High School students, parent volunteers and Lincoln Trail staff members assisted with the event.

Students received passports and were to visit up to nine countries throughout the day.

A fourth-grade class stamped their passports in Spain, where they sang the alphabet song in Spanish.

"What did you notice was different about the Spanish alphabet?" a volunteer asked.

"It had more letters," a fourth-grader replied.

"That's correct," the volunteer said.

Meanwhile, a third-grade class learned about Chinese culture by repeating Mandarin phrases, such as "thank you." They also learned where Mahomet was in comparison to China on the map. They discussed the Great Wall and the Chinese New Year celebration.

In the Dominican Republic, Lincoln Trail students learned that the country is located in the Caribbean on the island of Hispaniola. They also played a Cardinals versus Cubs themed trivia game to answer and learn more about the country.

Matt and Angel Difanis' Philippines-themed classroom shared about the family's travels and work in the country to assist children.

Matt Difanis showed a slideshow presentation of his travels, followed by a traditional Pilipino dance, the Tiniklang, where children tried to hop in between two poles to match their rhythm dancing near the children's feet.

Laughter filled the room as each student tried the Tiniklang dance, some understanding its rhythm while others keeping a steady eye on the moving poles before giving it a try.

Sponsored by the M-S PTO, a music-based closing ceremony ended the day's festivities with a performance by the University of Illinois Steel Drum Band, directed by Ricardo Flores.

Each year, music teacher Susan Keeble utilizes the closing ceremony as an opportunity to teach the students about the music featuring the differing yearly guest. This year she did so by borrowing a steel drum from Sangamon Elementary School music teacher Jacob Beinborn.

"Most of the kids got a chance to play the steel drum in class," she said.

Keeble said she enjoys using music as a way of exploring other cultures.

"It's a passion of mine," she said. "My favorite thing to do is explore world music with the kids because it's a gateway for breaking stereotypes."

Students opened the closing ceremony by raising their voices and beating their drums.

"We sang an opening song, 'Jambo Bwana,'" Keeble said. "It's a greeting song from West Africa, which was in the spirit of world music."

Prior to introducing the UI Steel Drum Band, Principal Jeff Starwalt addressed the crowd.

"You must be exhausted today; you've traveled all over the world," he said.

Flores' 10-member band gripped their mallets and proudly introduced their Mahomet-Seymour alumna drummer, Danielle Schuh.

"She started off here as a percussion major and then she changed her major," Flores said. "She always wanted to play the steel drums, and she's been in the band every semester ever since she got here. She's getting ready to buy her own pan, which is a nickname for the steel drums. She loves it so much and hopefully she'll keep playing for the rest of her life."

The drummers' near half-dozen song list of calypso, jazz and original tunes, kept more than 750 students wiggling in their seats.

"There was a lot of chatter, but the chatter was about the music," Keeble said. "It was more along the lines of, 'Oh gosh, that was so cool! Did you see that one?'"

In her first year coordinating the event, Grotelueschen found the event to be a success due to the many hands who made the event such a hit.

"I was pleasantly surprised it went off so well," she said. "It's a well-oiled machine. After 23 years, I think they've got it figured out. I think it speaks volumes how well received it is if you have 56 high school students who want to come and present. That shows that they had a positive experience with it. It's certainly something you want to continue."

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