Students learn about diversity

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DIXFIELD – Hannah Stanley knew that World War II concentration camps were bad, but she never knew how bad until Max Slobotsky spoke about his experience as a child in three such camps.

Stanley, a sophomore at Dirigo High School, was one of scores of students who took part in the school’s annual Diversity and Cultural Awareness Day. More than 30 presenters, speaking or demonstrating about everything from Islam and Judaism to local farming, West African drumming, and Native American history, took part in the annual event.

Slobotsky of Portland was from Belgium just before World War II broke out and his family was dispersed.

He showed the fascinated students the Star of David he and all Jews had to wear, he spoke of the horror and pain of the camps, of the disappearance of many of his family.

In the high school’s community room, dozens of students were learning how to “keep the beat,” as they played drums and other percussion instruments as taught by Inanna, three young women in costume who taught West African rhythmic drumming techniques.

In the industrial arts rooms, local farmer Laura Ackley, owner of Fare Share Farm, spoke about the importance of agriculture and how it helped form communities.

“The state and federal governments are learning that a valuable asset is being lost,” she said.

Two students, Christopher Ratcliff, a senior, and Parker Erskine, a junior, volunteered to operate a 200-year-old apple cider press. As Erskine placed the apples in the hopper of the iron and wood antique, Ratcliff operated the wheel that crushed the apples. Juice came running out.

Julie Webber, a sophomore, visited a presentation by Matt Clark of the Maine Wheelers, a group of disabled people who play on a wheelchair basketball team.

“They wanted us to ask questions and to know that they are people, too, who can do the same things as the rest of us,” she said.

Although the event was primarily geared to students, parents also visited some of the programs throughout the day.

“This is the broadest group of people in one place at one time,” Webber said.

The event was organized by Norm Greenberg, the school’s learning lab coordinator, and students.

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