Mansfield Living

Mansfield school district celebrates diversity at Multicultural Festival

Mansfield school officials were looking for a way to showcase the district’s changing demographics and growing diversity, but they didn’t want it to feel like a seminar.

“Our make-up doesn’t look like it did 10 years ago,” said Lynn Wilkie, a district event planner. “We wanted to do something where we could educate people on all the cultures we have but also celebrate it.”

The result was the Multicultural Festival, which returns for its second year Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the district’s Center for the Performing Arts, 1110 W. Debbie Lane. Admission and everything else is free.

Although two hours shorter than the inaugural event – attendance waned toward the end -- this second annual festival is just as packed with activities, games, food and student performances that draw from the district’s broadening ties to cultures in its community and around the world.

“It’s a big, fun event for the community,” said district spokesman Richie Escovedo. “And it’s part of our mission, what we’re about. We have a diverse population and were trying to show this as part of a unifying experience for the community to come together and learn about.”

Mansfield is increasingly an ethnic minority-majority district, where white students now make up 38.4 percent of its 32,831 students. African-American enrollment accounts for 26.5 percent, Hispanic 24.2 percent and Asian 6.4 percent, and 3.9 percent of students reported having more than one race in their family tree, according to a district summary of its 2012-13 demographic data, which also said 112 languages other than English are spoken in the school district.

More than 10 percent of students are in bilingual and English as a Second Language programs. The top five most spoken languages in the district, after English, are Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Urdu and Igbo, the report said.

The festival was a hit last year, drawing an estimated 3,500 visitors, Escovedo said.

This year, again, every school campus is involved, along with a number of departments, like police and athletics – but not all.

“Well, you’re not going to have the business department out there saying, ‘Here’s how you put in for a requisition’ or anything,” Escovedo said.

Among the attractions is the Wax Museum, where 120 students of all grade levels who studied historical figures get to pretend to be wax sculptures. They will stand motionless on platforms in the first- and second-floor lobbies of the center, until they spring to life in character to recite observations of the period.

“When someone presses the red button on their hands, they go into their spiel,” said Jeanne Cassidy, sales and marketing manager for the center. “Rosa Parks is a big one.”

The festival will feature culinary samples from around the world, researched and prepared by students of Ben Barber Career Tech Academy. About 15 countries – including four more this year – will be represented by bite-sized native cuisine, accompanied by the nations’ flags and information about the dish and its history, Cassidy said.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, let’s make some enchiladas,’” she said. “They have to learn about it before they cook it.”

The Mary Orr Intermediate School student robotics team will demonstrate some of their projects. They skipped a major robotics tournament this weekend to take part in the festival, Cassidy said.

A returning feature and one of the most popular last year is the Henna tattoos of India.

“We had people waiting in line 40 minutes,” Wilkie said.

At other stations, visitors will be invited to make Chinese lanterns, masks and play games, including some vintage favorites such as Chinese checkers and hopscotch.

In one area, groups of students from all 22 elementary schools will present the games they discovered during research on each continent they were assigned.

At another station, people could learn how to weave plastic grocery bags into mats that often are used for birthing in third-world countries.

Visitors also can take part in Zumba dance classes, which are the only activity scheduled for outside the building.

The auditorium stage will feature a series of student performances, including choirs and dances, every 15 minutes or so, Cassidy said.

“Even with all the other activities going on in the district” that the festival has to compete against, she said, “we’ve still had a huge response from our staffs and students. Even the student performance schedule is booked solid.”