Black River students learn about Asian culture through feast event

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Seventh-grade students at Black River Public School who participated in a feast focused on South Asian food and cultures Thursday, Nov. 4.
Seventh-grade students at Black River Public School who participated in a feast focused on South Asian food and cultures Thursday, Nov. 4.

HOLLAND — The return of a traditional event at Black River Public School last week provided students with a bit of normalcy and togetherness.

Students in Marguerite Stephens’ seventh grade history class had the opportunity to participate in a feast celebrating Asian culture. The seventh-grade history curriculum focuses on the study of Asian history and the feasts are intended to tie into that focus.

Stephens typically organizes a pair of feasts during the year for her students — one featuring South Asian cuisine in the fall and one with East Asian dishes in the spring. After having to cancel the spring 2020, fall 2020 and spring 2021 feasts due to COVID-19, the event returned Thursday, Nov. 4.

More than 200 people attended a feast featuring South Asian cuisine at Black River Thursday, Nov. 4.
More than 200 people attended a feast featuring South Asian cuisine at Black River Thursday, Nov. 4.

“It was wonderful to be able to do it this year,” Stephens told The Sentinel. “It seemed normal. It’s really a joy to see them all experiencing that togetherness that we haven’t had a lot of (during the pandemic.)”

During the feasts, participating students make or help make food from the cultures they’re learning about. Dishes presented at the South Asian feast included chicken curry, Indian bread pudding, Sri Lankan pol toffee, coconut ladoo, naan bread, chicken biryani and mango lassi.

“They actually got recipes from South Asia, which is really cool,” Stephens said.

The South Asian feast at Black River held Thursday, Nov. 4, was the first since the fall of 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The South Asian feast at Black River held Thursday, Nov. 4, was the first since the fall of 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stephens said food is a useful tool when learning culture because it’s a part of every culture.

“A lot of the students would never try some of the food, try the spices, unless their friends were doing it,” she said. “It just adds another dimension to the class. It solidifies the class as a whole, plus it brings the culture into part of the history that we’re talking about.”

Stephens said over 200 people attended the feast, which was held in the Lyceum at Black River. Around 40 students participated. Beyond providing a learning experience for students, the event provided a chance for members of the BR community to gather as well.

Seventh-grade students at Black River participated in a feast to complement lessons about Asian history.
Seventh-grade students at Black River participated in a feast to complement lessons about Asian history.

“There were actually parents looking forward to it starting again that had been part of the feasts before COVID,” Stephens said. “For the kids, just to have something after school, it was cool. Parents can meet parents, the kids can see their friends. Everybody eats and it just works.”

Another feast, this one focused on East Asian cuisine, is being planned for the spring.

— Contact reporter Mitchell Boatman at mboatman@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @SentinelMitch.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Black River students learn about Asian culture through feast event

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