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Despite Late Start, Children's Parade Makes Frederiksted Shine

Jan. 6, 2007 — The littlest ones took center stage Friday at the Crucian Christmas Festival Children's Parade, filling the west end of the island with color and laughter.
It was a beautiful day for a parade. The midmorning skies had enough cloud cover to shield little faces from the harshness of the sun as the children of the V.I. gathered at Claude O. Markoe Elementary School to begin their trek through Frederiksted.
Everyone was eager to get the show on the road, but almost everyone was late, according to Davidson Charlemagne, vice president of the Christmas Festival Committee. "You can't start a parade without anybody," Charlemagne said.
Delays in starting the parade were necessary to ensure there were no large gaps between troupes once it got under way, he said. The deadline for participation in the parade was Dec. 9, but Charlemagne said some entries came in the night before or the day of the parade. The committee adjusted the scheduling and timing of the event to accommodate the late entrants.
This year's children's parade was different, Charlemagne said. "The parade has only children, no adults, because people end up having the opportunity to win at both parades," he said. In the interest of fairness, he said, all entries high school-aged and above could only appear in the adult's parade scheduled for Saturday.
Slow-moving, tricked-out trucks led the parade filled with royalty from all over the island. Every prince, princess, king and queen sat patiently waving as they passed smiling children and adults. Troupe leaders said participating in the parade was important for the younger generation.
Takiyah Antoine, director of the Sparkle Lite Twirlers, said their goal is to help their members understand and preserve their culture. "Taking part in the parade is a part of their culture," she added.
Sharmaine Williams is one of Alfredo Andrews Elementary School's fifth-grade teachers and an organizer of their Steel Pan Festival troupe. The 30 members of their troupe spent two long weeks with five hours each day of practicing to get ready for the parade, she said.
Parents and teachers alike were actively involved with their younger charges on parade day. Parental involvement made getting ready for the parade "pretty much effortless," said Andrea Hobson, vice-principal at Alexander Henderson Elementary School. The Henderson troupe was a favorite for many as they came down King Street dressed in Asian garb, with little girls in beautifully embroidered kimonos and boys dressed for martial arts. Accompanied by the New Year's dragon, the troupe elicited squeals of delight and fear from the children along the route.
Deseree Ritter LanBertis and her friends cheered loudly for the troupe as they passed, saying they were their favorite because of the way the children responded to the call of the band.
Sometimes the length of the parade proved too much for young participants as the sun continued to fight the clouds, eventually winning and beaming brightly. The children tried their best to stay in line and have fun despite the heat. It was not uncommon to see an adult in everyday clothes weaving in and out of troupes taking pictures, bringing drinks or snacks to troupe participants or encouraging them just to keep going a little more, even though their feet hurt.
Adult organizers were as excited about the parade as the children, and their enthusiasm for the festival and their chosen themes seemed to fuel the parade participants as they tramped, jumped and wailed down the road. Some troupe leaders were once participants in the children's parade.
Eltino Pickering has been a part of the St. Thomas-based Rising Stars Steel Band since high school. Being in the band gave him the desire to go to college and focus on music education, he said. Now his pan students are giving Pickering a warm welcome back. "I went away before Panarama," he said, "and the kind of love I received when I returned was the best moment for me as a teacher."
Colleen Williams, principal at Ricardo Richards Elementary School spoke of the effect playing music and participating in events like this had on children.
"The caliber of musicianship these children have — seeing their talent and the effort they put into their music is exceptional," she said. In her two years at Ricardo Richards, Williams said, she has seen a tremendous change in students who have participated in the steel-pan band.
The steel pan, quadrille dance group and quelbe band are all essential tools for children these days, and not just to keep culture alive, said Kurt Vialet, principal at the St. Croix Educational Complex: "They are great after-school programs to keep kids out of trouble."
To see the Festival in Photos, click here.
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