Around the World in Just One Day: Maggie Walker’s International Language Fair

Claire Mendelson, Editor-in-Chief

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On March 19, over 250 students from 15 different middle schoolers attended Maggie Walker’s annual International Language Fair. Caroline Meek (’16) and Carson Watlington (’16) headed the fair, which Caroline Pridgen (’17) will coordinate next year. Ms. Dawn Grois, German teacher and chair of the language department, was also instrumental in planning the fair. Planning has already begun for next year’s fair, which will build off of the successes of the fair this year.

Carson Watlington ('16) and Caroline Meek ('16) worked together to coordinate this year's fair.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Meek.
Carson Watlington (’16) and Caroline Meek (’16) worked together to coordinate this year’s fair.

When did you start planning for this year’s language fair?

Caroline Meek: The timeline for this year was different. Instead of sending letters out in October, as we did in past years, the letters weren’t sent out until January. This actually helped us because it remained more relevant in a lot of people’s minds.

Carson Watlington: The logistical planning began earlier, but as soon as the letters were sent out we started putting together the workshops and recruiting volunteers.

 

What was your goal for the fair?

CW: Our goal was always the same – reach as many middle schoolers as possible.

Caroline Pridgen: We also wanted to increase the awareness of other languages within the Richmond community. The middle school students who attended were able to see different languages they wouldn’t have the opportunity to see in their home schools.

CM: We had a large turnout and I definitely think we accomplished our goals. I had kids coming up to me after it was over and they all gushed about how fun and amazing their experience was. There are people who go to Maggie Walker now who went to the language fair and they still remember how much fun they had at the fair.

 

What made this year’s language fair different from past years?

CW: The biggest difference was the amount of middle school students who attended. Last year 100 signed up and about 60 came, but this year over 250 signed up and came.

CP: Because of the increase in size we had to open more booths, and we also set up a different layout for how students moved throughout the day. Rather than rotate through booths individually, students travelled in groups. As a result some students didn’t necessarily get the language they wanted, but overall it worked out well because students were exposed to a wide variety of languages.

CM: Carson and I worked together to coordinate the event, which was the first year the fair has been headed by two students. We worked well together and established strict guidelines for the workshops, which contributed to the fair’s success. We were very thorough in going over the plan, setting strict outlines for people running the booth, and as a result things ran smoothly and we got the outcome we wanted.

 

What were some of the highlights from this year’s fair?

CW: I had a student I taught last year who came up to me this year and told me how excited she was about Japanese. This encounter really embodied the goal of the fair – to get people interested in different languages and cultures, not just on the day of the fair but beyond.

CM: A personal highlight for me was that during lunch, Carson got called to the Bluestone lobby. Her aunt was there along with the Dean of Admissions from the University of Richmond – she received a full scholarship which she found out about on the day of the fair, so that was a really exciting moment. In general the entire fair was very different and a lot better than it was in the past.

 

What were some of the challenges of organizing the fair?

CM: Weather was an issue – it was originally supposed to be in February but it got moved to March due to snow days. We also had to share the school with debate, which hosted a regional tournament that day, but everything ended up working out. It was also a bit stressful because several volunteers backed out at the last minute. Luckily we had an incredible group of volunteers who were able to cover.

CW: Sometimes communicating with the other schools was an issue but we ended up with almost 15 different schools in attendance.

CP: Because of the increased amount of students attending, we had to completely change the model of how the fair would be structured. It ended up working really well though and I am planning to stick with the new model for next year.

 

How did the middle schoolers react to all of the different booths?

CW: Every student reacted differently, but they all stayed involved throughout the day and remained interested in the fair’s activities.

CP: All of the reactions were positive. Initially when the middle schoolers arrived and were registering, some were disappointed they wouldn’t be able to attend a specific language’s booth, but at the end of the day people were all happy with how it turned out.

 

What was the most creative booth?

CP: The German booth was a highlight for me. While the other booths struggled to carry out their activity due to a lack of internet connection, we decided to play games which was a lot of fun and also a good way to teach basic vocabulary.

CW: Latin also had a creative booth. Similar to the German booth, the Latin booth involved skits for the middle schoolers.

 

What was your favorite part of planning the fair?

CM: Carson and I made an intro video for the fair, similar to Club Asia’s Asian Assembly video. We spent a lot of hours coming up with the video and filming it, but we had a lot of fun in the process and I was happy with how it turned out.

CW: The day before the fair, we stayed after school to stuff goody bags and finalize the plans. It was basically a party with coffee and movies.

CP: Personally, my favorite part of the fair was getting to see what the different groups came up with to entertain the students. Everyone was so creative!

 

What are you plans for next year’s fair?

CW: With Caroline Pridgen as the head, she will be able to continue the progress we made this year in terms of organizing and planning. The long-term goals for the fair are to continue to get the word out about it and involve more and more people each year.

CP: I’m really excited to be heading the fair next year. We’ll stick with the same model that we used this year, and also plan to reach out to more schools. We expect this fair to become more and more popular!

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