Multicultural fair brings taste of the world to McHenry High School

First such event at District 156 school brings in cultures from around the globe

Jose Barrada, of Carnaval Tradicional del Torito, takes his turn at with a traditional dance on Saturday, April 6, 2024, at McHenry High School's first-ever Multicultural Fair.

This year, McHenry High School District 156 has 28 new-language learners from countries including Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Thailand and Guatemala.

A multicultural fair – the school’s first such event Saturday – can help longtime and new residents learn more about each other, Upper Campus Principal Jeff Prickett said.

“It brings people together at the high school, the hub of the community,” Prickett said. “We have a responsibility to help people see how they are all connected and bring all of the cultures of our community together.”

It brings people together at the high school, the hub of the community,”

—  Jeff Prickett, McHenry High School Upper Campus principal

The daylong event was proposed by Kelsey Podgorski, assistant director of multilingual education at McHenry High School. Hired for the role in July, she suggested hosting the event and started working on creating it on her first day. It is an idea brought from Burlington Central High School, where her husband works.

On their way to that school’s Culture Blast last year, Podgorski said she found herself explaining what “multicultural” means to her two daughters. “It is other countries ... and how other countries see things. It is a worldwide experience.”

Podgorski sais she started putting together the McHenry High event by searching social media sites for crafters, entertainers, dancers and food trucks in McHenry County and neighboring communities that offer a taste of their home countries. She found jewelry makers from Mexico, knitters from Peru and crafters from Italy, Ireland, Poland and Guatemala. The school’s German and art honor program students jumped in to help, as did those from other clubs and organizations.

Students from McNulty Irish Dancers took the stage during McHenry High School's first-ever Multicultural Fair on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Junior Ana Montes, 17, was helping at the door, directing students and guests. She was recruited to help, in part, because her mom works with Podgorski and because she speaks English and Spanish, and is learning French. “I would be able to communicate with different people,” Montes said.

Podgorski and Prickett noted people can experience other cultures via travel, but by hosting a fair here people don’t need to leave town to learn about those who live in other parts of the world.

“It isn’t just the food, but the clothing and the crafts” they make that helps to create culture, Prickett said.

“It is exciting, to bring it all into one place and give kids this and show them there are many places beyond Illinois or just this area,” Podgorski said.