The tray of spanakopita had barely hit the table and the group of middle schoolers hustled into line and scooped a pile of the spinach pastry onto their plates.
"I love this stuff," said fifth-grader Thomas Weinheimer, surrounded by classmates during a session of the school's diversity club.
On Monday, students learned about Greece, first through a short lecture by River Forest resident Marika Panton, who breezed through a few hundred years of Greek history while a DVD of the picturesque country played adjacent to her, and then from her father-in-law John Panton, a Greek-born Elmwood Park eye doctor who told students about the country's troubles during World War II.
Students also learned about the Greek food, courtesy of a few pans full of treats donated by in Oak Park.
The diversity club has been meeting for about 20 years, said Marjorie McInerney, a Roosevelt Spanish teacher who runs the program along with faculty member Wendy Kennedy. The twice-monthly session are designed to allow students "to appreciate people from other cultures and to respect them."
McInerney and Kennedy have courted Peace Corp workers, college professors, grandparents and friends into the classroom for lectures on the culture and history of countries across the globe. McInerney said one of her son's friends from the little-known Marshall Islands wowed the kids.
"One of the best speakers we've ever had," she said.
Sometimes, diversity club eschews guest speakers in favor of a cultural cooking lesson — recently, the students have made tiramisu, tortillas and scones. Soon, they'll be selling churros for a fundraiser.
Although Monday's session was the last diversity club meeting scheduled for the year to feature a speaker, organizers say they're constantly looking to line up guests in the future.
Anyone interested in lending their cultural expertise can call River Forest Public Schools District 90 at (708) 771-8282.