Area students take action for diversity
BY GENA OLEJARCZYK
Grand Haven Tribune
Taking the stage on the topic of tolerance, Lakeshore Middle School students broke into a fight, toppled chairs and shouted racial stereotypes. Their point was made.
During the fifth annual Calling All Colors conference Friday at Grand Valley State University, students from12 Ottawa
and Muskegon county middle schools presented action plans that they had taken into their own schools this year to educate on diversity.
The "Jenny Springer Show" was Lakeshore's effort, which immediately grabbed the attention of the 160 students in
attendance at the conference. The Lakeshore group said that they figured the students would listen to the message of
acceptance and tolerance of others, if they made it interesting.
Eighth grader Elvia Gonzalez, who played Jenny Springer, announced to the crowd that the topic of today's talk show
would be tolerance. But instead, the talk show guests pretended to throw punches and yell at one another, based on their different races.
"We were trying to make people accept each other, but not by what they look like, what they wear or where they're from," explained Gonzalez. "We have to celebrate our differences."
At the end of the skit, the talk show guests hugged and shook hands, realizing that tolerance was easier than hate.
Scandia Herrera, an eighth grade student at Lakeshore, shared with the crowd that she occasionally gets teased about her skin "color and ethnicity. She added that she is prejudiced herself against those people who cannot accept people of different cultures.
"If I was born knowing life would be full of discrimination, I'd rather have been something else other than human because according to me, that's our only race. But just to make it clear, I'm pretty darn proud of my brown skin color," Herrera said, receiving a loud round of applause from the audience.
The group of 15 Lakeshore students plan to do the Jenny Springer skit for the sixth and seventh graders next week.
Students from Spring Lake Middle School read a quote on diversity to the crowd, demonstrating their action plan which had them reading these quotes in each homeroom at Spring Lake Middle School and then leading a discussion on its
meaning: Sixth grader Whitney Tooker said that at first the students weren't real responsive to the project.
"At first it was kind of silent, but once we explained a little bit, kids started raising their hands," Tooker said.
Tooker's classmates, sixth grader Alycia Henning said that she thinks conferences like Calling All Colors will stop the student harassment that has led to some school shootings.
"We're changing the way the world is going to be in the future. You talk to other kids about lwhat you have to do (to change the world), instead of to adults," Hennine said.
White Pines Middle School took the conference stage dressed as candles, wrapped in colorful paper with paper flames on their foreheads.
They were explaining the African holiday of Kwanzaa, which was part of their action plan to study the clothing, food and traditions of different cultures. The students said they plan to hold an international cook-off at their school soon, to
showcase food from around the world.
"Our group is very important because our school has no diversity. It's all Caucasian," said White Pines eighth grader Lynde Seaver.
Ortencia Ruiz, coordinator of Calling All Colors, which is put on by the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said that it was exciting to see the students bring back the diversity lessons they had learned from the first conference this fall, and show how they have applied them all year long.
"It shows that the kids actually followed through," Ruiz said.
After the presentation of actions plans, the students dialogued about the advantages and disadvantages of groups, with students from other schools.
The discussions covered who is usually included and excluded from groups and how everyone could bridge the divides between different groups of students.
In the afternoon, students were invited to have some fun with a culture they weren't that familiar with by trying an activity like Irish dancing, Latin dancing, swing dancing, martial arts and making Mexican fiesta crafts.
Paula Kendra, a member of the diversity alliance, said that the cultural activities bring students from different schools together and gives them a new perspective on cultures.
"Sometimes they're afraid of the differences between each other," Kendra said. "They end up doing incredible things by the end of the day."