2001-04-25 Grand Haven Tribune "Calling All Colors: games to bring area students together"


Calling All Colors: Games bring area students together at diversity conference
BY GENE KAISER
Grand Haven Tribune

At previous Calling All Colors conferences, area middle school students tried Native American drum dancing, African beading and martial arts to experience just a small part of another culture.

But due to requests from the students, at the next Calling All Colors on Monday at Grand Valley State University, they will instead focus on teamwork with students of other races and from other schools.

"They always give us feedback in their evaluations (of the conference) that they would like to do things together more," said Onencia Ruiz, conference coordinator.

During this conference, which is held in the fall at Hope College and then again each spring, students learn and dialogue about racial harmony and diversity issues. And in the past, the students also tried their hand at various cultural activities
from dancing, to making quilts and doing crafts.

But on Monday about 170 middle school students will be broken up randomly into groups for the first time to play cooperative games. They will meet students from other schools and learn how to work together, Ruiz said.

Participants include students - from Lakeshore, White Pines, Spring Lake and Fruitport middle schools and St. Mary's Catholic School.

Ruiz said that while the idea to play games came from the students, it perfectly compliments the purpose of the conference.

"A goal of the conference is to bring kids together of different ethnic backgrounds. Some of those kids don't have the experience of being around other races. Some of these schools are predominantly white," Ruiz said.

"We want them to socialize and have a positive experience with diversity."

As part of that experience, the students will also be presenting their action plans for celebrating diversity in their own schools. These same students attended the first Calling All Colors conference of the year in the fall, where they created action plans to start programs in their schools that focus on diversity. At Monday's conference, the students will be reporting on what they did this school year to implement these plans.

According to Ruiz, one school's action plan meant holding their own Calling All Colors conference while another had a diversity week, where students enjoyed food and activities from other cultures.

"It's good for them to see that the other kids are doing on this as well," Ruiz said of the student reports on the action plans. "This way we have an outcome measure."

Students will also hear from guest speaker Michael Fowlin, who will portray several different characters of various races and the types of discrimination they encounter.

"Apparently it's quite powerful. One minute you're laughing and the next minute you might be crying," Ruiz said. "That's going to be the highlight of the day."

Fowlin was one of the speakers at Grand Haven High School's Diversity Day last year.

Ruiz said that after Fowlin's presentation, the students will be broken up into dialogue groups where they will talk about the issues he raised and the types of discrimination that they have experienced.

The conference is sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which began organizing the conference in 1996.
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