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May 14, 2018 1:51 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Quogue Hosts First-Ever Cultural Night To Celebrate School's Diversity

Nicole Larkin, Grisel Baltazar, and Toni Arnone. VALERIE GORDON
May 15, 2018 1:22 PM

Pierogies, empanadas and kourabiedes—Greek sugar cookies—were just a few of the varied food choices available to dozens of East Quogue families looking to explore not just different foods but different cultures as well on Thursday, May 10.For roughly two weeks, more than 20 kindergarten through sixth grade East Quogue classrooms studied cultures—Greece, Poland, Russia, Colombia and Czechoslovakia—as preparation for the Central Avenue school’s first-ever Cultural Night last week.

To kick off the event, the school’s sixth-graders performed cultural drumming, followed by food tasting, arts and crafts, face painting, and music from around the world.

Grisel Baltazar, who identified herself as a “Phillerican”—Filipino and Puerto Rican—joined East Quogue teaching English as a New Language three years ago. She worked closely with her colleagues, Toni Arnone and Nicole Larkin, to organize last week’s event, which was held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the school’s cafetorium, to celebrate the school’s diversity.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Ms. Baltazar said, shifting her shoulder-length black hair to the side. “To bring all of the different communities together in East Quogue—to have us all under one roof is really beyond what we imagined.”

Sixth-grader Sydney Scheurer, who together with her classmates practiced cultural drumming every Thursday morning for the past few weeks, said, “It’s fun to learn about different cultures and foods.”

Carolina Werchol, who moved to East Quogue from Poland nearly 10 years ago, spent hours in the kitchen on Wednesday. Together with her fifth-grader son, Nicholas, she served pierogies, Polish kielbasa, veggie salad, crepes, and potato pancakes on Thursday.

“It’s nice to get to know the things about the other cultures,” Ms. Werchol said, her Polish accent still very prominent. “It brings all the cultures together.”

Dressed as a Greek goddess, Angelina Kouvaris took the opportunity to teach East Quogue families about her hometown, Kavala, Greece. She spoke of the ancient superstition known as the “evil eye,” a curse derived from anger or jealousy that dates back to 6th century B.C.

She explained that wearing a special evil eye charm, also called a “mati,” is said to help prevent the curse from happening. The process of casting away the evil eye is called “xematiasma.”

Ms. Kouvaris’s daughter, Lauren Glynn, also taught attendees how to write their names in Greek.

“I am so happy that this is such a big success and that everyone feels so comfortable and happy,” Ms. Arnone said, shouting over the sound of Vallenato, a Colombian music genre consisting of an accordion, a caja, which is a type of drum, and a guacharaca, a percussion instrument that makes a scratching noise.

It was music to Claudia Castrillon’s ears, who moved to East Quogue from Colombia 19 years ago. Now, with two children in the district, she is hoping to teach them about different cultures. “We’re not the only ones in the world,” she said. “It’s important for them to know that.”

“It’s a dream come true,“ Ms. Baltazar said as the event began to wind down. “It’s to recognize that even in a small community like East Quogue, there are people here from all over the world.”

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Thank you to all who made that night a memorable one. The kids had a great time. We love our EQ community!
By LocalEnthusiast (22), East Quogue on May 23, 18 10:41 AM