Roanoke Elementary event takes students ‘around the world’ at multicultural event

Dozens of students from the Roanoke Avenue Elementary School grabbed their passports last Thursday night and went “around the world”.

Students and their families set up tables in the school cafeteria to represent their respective countries, some decorated with colorful embroidery and jewelry, and home-cooked food from their cultures for classmates and members of the school community to sample. 

Students were given a “paper passport,” which got stamped at each country they “visited.” Among the countries represented were Poland, El Salvador, Guatemala, Italy, Ukraine, U.S.A., Honduras and the Republic of Georgia.

There were pierogis from Poland — dumplings made from wrapped unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling. There were pupusas from El Salvador — a thick griddle cake that can be stuffed with cheese, beans and various meats from El Salvador, as well as sweet and sour meatballs from the U.S.A and more.

Thursday night’s event — which had about 80 community members in attendance — featured a table for Ukraine hosted by Iryna Strochenko, Oleksii Arkhypenko and their daughter, Alisa Arkhypenko a student at Roanoke. They participated in the event for the first time.

The table was covered in children’s books in Ukranian, hand-made accessories, Ukranian folk clothing and more.

“It’s very important for me to show not only the beauty of the country but also the tragedy that our Ukrainian people are going through now,” Ms. Strochenko said, referring to the war that has been raging between Ukraine and Russia since last February.

Mayra Pina from Ecuador and her child from kindergarten attended for the first time and said the cultural representation in event was very important to them.

“We get to learn more about many traditions, [and eat] many meals from each participating country,” she said in Spanish. 

The event, Roanoke Around the World, was started through the school’s parent teacher organization (PTO) as an annual tradition in 2016, and is back after a three-year pandemic hiatus.

“It turned into an event that everyone at Roanoke looks forward to,” school principal Thomas Payton said. “We have a new PTO board three years later,” he said. “We had talked about firing it back up again this year now that all COVID-19 restrictions are pretty much over, so we thought that this would be an excellent activity to bring back to Roanoke,” he said.

It took about two months for the current PTO to plan this event, he said.

PTO president Paul Pettersen made the flyers for the event, helped set up for the event at the cafeteria and helped make sure the announcement of the event went out to the schools’ families.

“We tried to promote it as much as we could to get as many people here because Riverhead is one of the most culturally-diverse areas on Long Island and we have some wonderful families here,” he said.

In prior years, Spainish flamenco dancers were invited to entertain the crowd. This year the Mariachi Juvenil, which translates to youth mariachi, delighted the audience with renditions of Mexican folk songs like “Como Quien Pierde Una Estrella” by Mexican singer, Alejandro Fernandez, which translates to “Like he who loses a star,” among others.

Roanoke students Bryanna Cortes and Isaac Fajardo performed an improvised Honduran folk dance.

Geraldine Garcia, the PTO’s cultural representative, said that the event is meant to bring together the entire school community.

“It’s just getting our community together,” she said. “Since Covid, we didn’t do much and we weren’t allowed to hang out like we’re doing right now, so this is free time for everyone to know each other,” she said.

Mr. Peyton said he looks forward to seeing what the PTO can do with this event in the future.

“My PTO board is incredible,” Mr. Peyton said. “They put an incredible amount of work into all the events that they put on for our students and for our community here at Roanoke and they’ve worked especially hard at rekindling this massive event. 

“Hopefully we can take off further with it starting next year.”