For six weeks, sixth grade students at Pekin’s Washington Intermediate School prepared displays of photographs, researched the cultures of their chosen countries, learned a few words and phrases of the relevant language, fashioned national costumes to wear, and constructed models of such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, Mount Everest and the Hagia Sophia. The project culminated Thursday in a World Showcase in the school’s gymnasium. Teacher, fellow students, and relatives were invited to tour what amounted to a miniature World’s Fair, admire the displays, and hear oral presentations about each country.

“The students studied and researched non-fiction reading resources that explain and detail other countries’ culture, economy, geography, government and relationship with the U.S.,” said Julie Antonini, a sixth-grade teacher at Washington Intermediate. “The students are able to relate what they’ve learned to the real world. I believe that it is applying this knowledge that helps them understand the importance of learning about a global community and economy.”

Antonini and Laura Bieller, another sixth-grade teacher at the school, oversaw the World Showcase project, which resulted in display booths representing more than 20 countries. If the enthusiasm with which the students displayed their national costumes and presented their displays was any indication, they found the event not only instructive but fun.

“We got to pick our countries, and Dana Snyder, (an 11-year-old Washington Intermediate student), and I both have ancestors from Germany, so that’s the country we chose,” said 11-year-old student Kaleann Bolson. “I was born in Germany but came to the United States when I was still a baby. This was a really fun project, because we got to make 3-D models. And we learned a lot about Germany, and learning about a country can inspire people to want to travel to that country someday.”

According to Antonini, some of the participants chose countries based on their own ancestry. Others made their selections out of a desire to know more about relatively obscure nations. 

“We had one group that really wanted to learn about what was going on in the Congo,” she said. “They chose some off-the-wall countries because they don’t understand why we don’t hear a lot about them. For example, we’ve got booths about Panama and Nepal and Barbados.” 

The various presentations focused mainly on economics, government and geography. In booths representing countries that celebrate Christmas, students included displays and offered information on how those countries observe the holiday.

“The showcase addressed common core standards in both language arts and social studies,” said Bieller. “The kids were very engaged in the project. They spent a lot of extra time on it, and they got very excited about their presentations. The showcase gave the kids a chance to practice their speaking skills, which will be important for their whole lives. It was also a way to emphasize diversity, world cultures and how different cultures celebrate this time of year.”