WARREN — Although Mardi Gras generally is recognized in March, about 25 Siersma Elementary students got a head start on the celebration during the school’s intersession held Nov. 4-8.
With the guidance of teacher leader Michele Babbish and teachers Andrea George and Karen Mentz, the students prepared and dined on well-known New Orleans-style meals, studied the city’s history, created Mardi Gras floats from recycled materials, made face masks significant with the holiday and more.
Siersma was one of three Warren Consolidated Schools elementary schools that implemented the year-round calendar for the 2013-2014 school year. Holden and Fillmore elementary schools, located in Sterling Heights, were the other two.
Under the year-round schedule, also known as the balanced calendar, the students attend the same amount of school days — 180 — as the traditional school year, but there are more breaks in between. Also, in the year-round schedule, school begins in early August, while the traditional school year begins in early September. Both school years end in June.
Year-round school in WCS began Aug. 5, and the first intersessions were held the weeks of Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, a two-week school break. The intersessions are offered as enrichment and remediation options for students while the year-round school is on break. Warren Consolidated teachers are the instructors during the intersessions, which provide hands-on activities in which students utilize their reading, mathematics, social studies and science skills.
The intersessions cost $100 per week per student. The fee included breakfast and lunch. The intersessions ran from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and were offered to all year-round students.
“It’s not remedial. It’s an enrichment,” Babbish said. “It’s geared toward all children to have more time with instruction. This opportunity provides a learning experience for all learners. The idea was to make it a hands-on event.”
At Siersma, the first week’s activities revolved around the “Under the Night Sky” theme, while the second week’s theme was a Mardi Gras celebration titled “Take A Trip to the Big Easy.”
A highlight came Nov. 5 when the Siersma students and teachers visited the Parade Company in Detroit, where floats are made for the annual Michigan Thanksgiving Parade. During the tour, the group got an up-close look at the details that go into creating the floats; they learned about the parade’s history and how local businesses and organizations help keep the tradition afloat each year through monetary donations.
“It was just fantastic. Our kids loved it,” Babbish said. “They watched artists sculpting and doing the paper maché. They could totally relate. The district already established the field trip at the Parade Company, and the Mardi Gras idea came out of that.”
The intersession included writing assignments, and the older students used computers to conduct research on New Orleans. On Nov. 6, the students helped make chicken gumbo. Another treat was mixing Sprite with cotton candy they made with a cotton candy machine. Jambalaya was on last Friday’s menu.
As the chicken gumbo stewed in a crockpot and Mardi Gras music played overhead last Wednesday, third-grader Ellah Walters was finishing up on her paper maché mask made from a white balloon and newspaper. Mentz said that once the newspaper dried, the students would pop the balloon and decorate the masks.
Walters enjoyed the intersession.
“It’s not like regular school because we get to have fun,” she said.
On the same day, fifth-grader Sophia Abboud, second-grader Nina Williamson, fourth-grader Mariel Sarim and third-graders Lexi Carris, Giana Williamson and Ashlee Allen were among a group of students who created a float using the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. Abboud pointed out that because gold was hard to come by, the students used a lot of yellow instead.
Their wagon was a colorful display. The students used donated egg cartons, plastic juice bottles, boxes, yogurt cups, construction paper, coins and beads to pay homage to Mardi Gras. They painted, glued, strung beads and strategically placed paper chains around the wagon to give it an authentic Mardi Gras look.
“They’ve been very clever. They have full reign to create however they want,” George said. “It’s just really cool. They’re in kindergarten all the way through fifth grade, and they’re all working together.”
The floats will be displayed in the school’s front lobby area. At press time, the school year was to resume Nov. 11. Intersessions also are planned for the February and April breaks.
Fillmore, Holden get in on the fun
Over the two-week break, Fillmore welcomed 50 students for the intersession, while 54 students attended the Holden intersession.
“I think they were very successful,” WCS Chief Academic Officer Brian Walmsley said. “The students were just excited about the activities.”
The Fillmore and Holden students also visited the Parade Company and incorporated their “Under the Big Top” and “American the Beautiful” themes the week of Nov. 4, respectively.
Walmsley said school officials already have been looking at the data of the year-round calendar.
“The teachers have reported they are spending less time reviewing than the previous year,” he said, adding that they also didn’t have to go over rules and procedures as much, since the students were back in school six weeks after the last school year ended. “They have more time built into the instruction.”