Ashley Cardoso and Hevelyn Dias were anxious last week about how things would go on Thursday.
Eighth graders at the Edgartown School, Ashley and Hevelyn are Island-born, Islanders with strong Brazilian roots, and they had sold the school the idea of observing the Day of the Child, the nearly 100-year-old tradition and largest national public celebration in Brazil.
“They both came to school early Wednesday and [Thursday] to make sure the rice and beans recipe was done right. They wanted it to be perfect,” Gina Debettencourt, head cook for 32 years at the school, said with pride at the girls’ focus and followthrough.
The girls could have relaxed. Their idea had caught hold, been embraced, and spread across the building of about 350 K-8 students. Using music, art, food, and social science classes, the Edgartown School transformed itself into a day of color, excitement, and new experiences.
The vibe was immediately established by a 20- by 8-foot mural, a packed, joyful riot of color draped from the school’s second-floor landing by the school’s front door. The powerful artwork depicted a favela, a neighborhood of small houses packed together in poor neighborhoods that surround large Brazilian metro areas.
We sat in the lunchroom with Hevelyn and Ashley to learn about the Day of the Child. “The holiday is actually celebrated on Oct. 12 in Brazil, but we’re celebrating today on the 11th because we don’t have school on Friday [professional development day],” Hevelyn said, noting that the daylong celebration is often combined with observance of saints’ days in Brazil, a heavily Catholic country.
“In Brazil, the day includes sharing candy and presents in school, and at night, everyone gets dressed up, there is a lot of music and dancing,” Ashley said.
The girls won’t be at the Edgartown School next year, but they noticed the excitement the 2019 event generated, and they have some ideas on expanding the Day of the Child in the future.
“There is a lot of excitement around this, whether you have Brazilian roots or not,” Ashley said. “I’d like to expand the menu and add more Brazilian games and customs into the day.”
Their vision may be in the cards. First-year Principal Shelley Einbinder was clearly enthralled by the coming together of the school community and the extra effort teachers made to establish strong visuals and teach cultural customs.
“The celebration began at 7:30 this morning with a parent-child breakfast, a full meal including Brazilian cheese bread,” Einbinder said. “When news spread about the day, parents signed up to volunteer and take part. We had more than 100 kids and families for breakfast,” she said, noting that the cultural interchange is important for the community at large as well.
That’s how head chef Gina Debettencourt and her culinary troops see it. “Everyone buys in to these events,” she said, rattling off the names of her culinary task force: Dwight Kaeka, Robin Forte, Leanna Fisher, Stacey Gouldrup, and George Giosmas (also a top-rated Island cribbage player). “Sharing cultures. That’s what America is all about,” Debettencourt said.