Sunday, March 21, 2004

She died before she knew she'd won the blue ribbon

Foreign Language Festival: A bittersweet day

By Emily Hagedorn
Enquirer contributor

Some practiced French folk dancing, others wore togas as they gave their rendition of a day in the life of a rich Roman, while others launched into song as a way to explain the Spanish subjunctive.

Welcome to the 28th annual High School Foreign Language Festival. More than 1,000 Northern Kentucky students from 16 high schools participated in the festival Saturday at Northern Kentucky University.

Students who excel in German, Spanish, French and Latin competed in categories that included comprehension tests, literature readings, dramatic dialogues, art and games.

One student created a model of Rome's Circus Maximus. Another crafted a clay representation of an ancient Spanish earring.

"We wanted to do a guillotine, but that was really cliche, so we wanted to do something different," said Nathan Pering, a third-level French sophomore at Simon Kenton High. So Pering and his classmates made a diorama of a public-execution scene, complete with catacombs.

Depending on category, the top winners were awarded medals. Schools that won the most medals in each language won trophies.

All first-place and some second- and third-place winners will compete at the state language festival May 15 at the University of Kentucky,in Lexington.

The festival gives students an opportunity to leave the classroom and understand what language means to culture and society, said Mimi Hagedorn, a French teacher at Bishop Brossart.

"It's not strictly the language being taught here," Hagedorn said. "It's understanding historical processes, thought processes.''

For most students, the festival was a celebration of their work. But for others, it was somber.

Kendal Smith, a sophomore at Walton-Verona High School, died Wednesday morning from complications from an earlier surgery.

Kendal's painting of a Spanish woman in traditional dress against a brick wall was one of the last things she worked on before going to sleep Tuesday night. At her parents' request, her painting was displayed Saturday at the festival.

Program director Margo Jang, an NKU English professor, gave Smith's Spanish teacher, Amy Compton, a blue ribbon to give to Kendal's family - as a gesture of kindness, Jang said.

But when Compton returned to the festival from the funeral, she cried after reading the awards list.

Kendal had won first place.

And the judges didn't know about her death, Jang said.

"I think they knew she worked really hard," Compton said.

"Kendal could have done anything she wanted to do."

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