Fall Feast at A.S. Jenks celebrates diversity and generosity
Two days before Thanksgiving, A.S. Jenks Elementary School held its Fall Feast, where families in the diverse neighborhood brought in cuisine from their homelands to be shared with students, teachers, parents, visitors, and outsiders alike.
“It’s a harvest celebration, not necessarily about Thanksgiving,” said principal Siouda Douglas, who originally started the festival for 4th graders, but then expanded it to involve the whole school.
In the heart of traditionally Italian South Philadelphia, A.S. Jenks now serves about 300 students in kindergarten through 5th grade whose families are from Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Albania, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, not to mention Italy and Ireland. The food filled tables in two long hallways, from spring rolls to Spanish rice to Italian pastries to corn on the cob.
Grade by grade, students lined up to fill up their plates and eat in their classrooms. At the same time, the Home & School Association collected nearly 200 meals for donation to Stella Maris Church to be shared with homeless people and crates full of canned goods for the food pantry. Home & School president Eleanor DeSimone is a Stella Maris parishioner.
Teacher Jennifer Rossoni said students in her 3rd-grade classroom alone speak “seven or eight languages,” including one little boy who already speaks English and Spanish and is learning the indigenous language spoken in Pueblo, Mexico, where his parents are from. Some of Rossoni’s Algerian students speak four languages – Berber, French, English, and Arabic.
While they ate, the students in Rossoni’s classroom watched videos that included more information about other cultures. Right after an Indonesian plate dance came Irish step dancing.
“We make an effort all year to celebrate and honor the diversity of our students,” said Rossoni, a longtime South Philly native. “It’s part of our mission.”