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French Classes Celebrate Mardi Gras in Style

While taking your regular route to class, you notice a group of people you don’t usually see in this area of the building all walking in the same direction and holding what seems to be a heavier load than the average person. Who is this group? With so much going on in a school like Sandburg, few times is one aware of what is going on outside of what they’re acquainted with. 

As you take a closer look, these students are carrying some sort of food and plasticware and are headed towards the PAC Foyer. This is a typical sight in the building on any day from the middle to the end of February every year. 

For over ten years now, the French classes have had Mardi Gras celebrations around the time of the holiday. Mardi Gras is a holiday of French origin that is the equivalent of Fat Tuesday in the United States. Although the holiday has religious roots, nowadays it is observed as more of a festival and a day to have a good time around the world. 

Mrs. Schmuck, more commonly known as Madame Schmuck or simply Madame, initiated this celebration in her first years at Sandburg. “Kids were always saying ‘can we have a food day?’ And so to come up with a relevant reason to have a food day, I decided that Mardi Gras would be the perfect time, and we make that our food day,” explains Madame.

Year after year, French students bring in plentiful amounts of food to share with their classmates. Some common foods brought in include cookies, brownies, cultural pastries or snacks, and a variety of drinks. Students sign up for what they would like to bring ahead of time and anxiously await the day of the festivity. 

Paired with the food is a craft that can vary from year to year. For the past couple of years, students had been making paper masks that imitate the style of a masquerade mask, but this year, Madame Schmuck decided to have students decorate clay magnet masks instead. 

Student Robert Zaker summed up the event, saying, “We got the little ceramic masks that we just got to paint over, we get to sit down with friends, and we all get to bring in food and eat and just enjoy a day off in celebration.”

Madame Schmuck describes these activities as an experience that brings “cultural awareness, to see that it’s not just France [students are] learning about. There’s cultures around the whole world, that are not even necessarily French-speaking, that celebrate. They celebrate it in South America, they celebrate it in Europe…so it’s not just a French thing. It’s a learning-about-different-cultures thing.”

And the students seem to agree. French 2 student Bea Carvalho de Melo celebrates Mardi Gras, or a holiday similar to it, and says that celebrating it in school allows her to see cultural ties.

De Melo commented that she “just now figured out that Mardi Gras and Carnival are the same thing, so it reminds [her] of Brazil. But [for] Mardi Gras in itself, is fun to know that there’s culture to it from France where you make masks, and it’s kind of similar to Brazil.” 

There is an additional component that all students note about celebrating Mardi Gras in class: community building. 

French 3 student Lily Defrates says, “the biggest reason I’ve stayed in French for three years so far is just the sense of community, because it is a smaller group. Everyone kind of knows each other and we’ve been with each other since freshman year, so it’s kind of just like a community where everyone just comes together.” 

“It’s a small class, so after two years, starting off, you have this same group of people usually, so you’ll want to go into a third year of it just to stick around the same people. It’s the same teacher every year, too, so you just get really involved and become friends with everyone there, so you just want to stay around,” adds Zaker, another long-term student.

De Melo explains how, “in [other] classes, you always have your friends and stuff, but in French, the fact that you’re with them for all four years, cause there’s only one teacher, [you] get to know people a lot more. It’s just one big family.”

“With my experiences in [other languages], we don’t really communicate as much with others, but the way Madame does it, is you’re constantly with partners, you’re constantly working to get to know people,” explains Wlazlo.

Even first-year French students have begun to sense the bonds that are created between classmates. Freshmen Marta Bieda and Mariam Al-Zaeem say, “[activities like the Mardi Gras celebration] enhance us to associate with our classmates and talk to them so it builds a better environment in class, and you can just be more comfortable learning.”

They further explain that subjects like “math are required, so you kind of have to take that. It doesn’t matter if you like the class, you just have to take it. But French, it’s your choice, and wanting to take it has a huge part on how she manages class.”

Madame acknowledges her students’ comments and agrees, saying that she thinks “things like [this] help. We can just hangout and have fun and not have to worry about content per-se, but it also helps that I am the only French teacher and kids hangout with me for as long as four years, so they really get to know each other. And that doesn’t happen too often in a high school as big Sandburg.”

Through a combination of excitement and proper coursework, the French classes build a remarkable environment. They learn, but also build laughter and community. As Defrates says, “French is a beautiful language, and if you’re considering taking it next year, you should! It’ll be fun for you, so do it!”

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