Going to Africa … in Clovis

Eric Yates, 10, right, a fifth-grader at Barry Elementary, hands sixth-grader J.C. Sandoval beads to purchase a Kente Cloth during African Market Day Tuesday at the school. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth

By Gary Mitchell

The threat of a light drizzling rain Wednesday didn’t deter the youngsters from “Wasuta Village,” also known as Barry Elementary School, from making the trek to “Kpando Village,” or Highland Elementary School, for a Durbar.
Students at the two schools Tuesday and Wednesday pretended to be members of two Ghana villages as part of their studies of Africa.
“The Durbar is a ceremony honoring individuals,” said Dr. Caryl Johnson, assistant professor of family and consumer sciences at Eastern New Mexico University. “You give the honoree a bracelet, which is a white string with a bead on it. The Queen Mother or the tribal chief would give out the bracelets. I was the Queen Mother for the ceremony. You would give bracelets when a child is born or on special occasions, and it shows you’re accepted as a member of the village.”
Johnson served as director of a Fulbright-Hays Group Abroad Project grant awarded this year. Eighteen New Mexico teachers, including five Clovis teachers, traveled to Ghana in July for 29 days to study teaching and cultural customs.
The five Clovis teachers were: Barbara Parson, a special education teacher at Barry; Terri Dixon, a fifth-grade teacher at Barry; Terry Pipkin, a sixth-grade teacher at Highland; Jan Klinger, an agriculture teacher at Clovis High School; and Matt Klinger, a technician at Marshall Junior High School.
“When we were in Africa, we walked from place to place. There was a lot of walking around,” Parson said.
So the teachers had their students walk from Highland to Barry on Tuesday for African Market Day and from Barry to Highland on Wednesday for the Durbar.
During the market day, students bartered beads for Kente cloth, jugs of water, fry bread or doughnuts and aqaba dolls.
“This is great,” said Jan Klinger, during market day. “All the shops in Africa have their own names. This helps the students understand the barter system. It’s very alive in Africa. I bought a wood-carved elephant and something else he just threw in for my watch. It was very interesting.”
“The kids are so excited about this,” Pipkin said. “They’re wound up. We sent them postcards from Africa, and they’ve been studying Egypt and Ghana. They’re realizing the cultures are different but also the same. That was the whole purpose — to teach kids that all cultures have commonalities, and the differences are cause for celebration.”
The students said they enjoyed their experience as members of African villages.
“I think it’s unique and fun,” said 11-year-old Chris Carby, a sixth-grader at Highland. “We’re learning different things about their culture and what they wear and what their daily chores are.”
“It’s fun,” said 11-year-old Krista Hart, a sixth-grader from Highland. “I love the way they dress, and I like learning how to speak the language and what they do during their daily lives. But the walk (on Tuesday) was long and hot.”
J.C. Sandoval, 12, a sixth-grader at Barry, said he liked the doughnuts best.
“It’s good,” he said. “We get to buy cloth. I’m getting some water and some doughnuts. The doughnuts are good. My teacher went to Africa, and she’s teaching us about it. It’s fun.”
Eric Wood, 9, a fourth-grader at Barry, said he enjoyed the event “a lot.”
“I like selling the stuff the best,” he said. “I’m selling the Kente cloth. You can’t buy anything until you get water because it’s for survival. After that, I’m going to buy a doughnut.”
Doughnuts seemed to take center stage during the market day.
“I like eating the doughnuts the best,” said Corey Coley, 11, a sixth-grader from Highland. “It’s different and it’s fun. But walking’s not fun.”
Parson said she has been pleased with the students’ responses.
“I think it’s remarkable,” she said. “It’s fantastic — they get to learn what we saw and heard over there. The vendors are walking around with their wares on their head. It’s as close as we can make it without actually being there.”
Johnson said she was pleasantly surprised with the students’ knowledge about Africa.
“The response has been real positive,” she said. “While walking over from Barry to Highland (on Wednesday), I asked the students what they’ve learned. They’ve learned a lot about the country and the culture in general. I’ve been impressed with what they told me.”