2007-10-17 Holland Sentinel "We are so diverse"

'We are so diverse'
Students celebrate differences at Calling All Colors event
The Holland Sentinel

Kelsey Castillo is thrilled that Holland High School students may enjoy a new spirit week in the future.

Her classmates came up with an idea Tuesday to set aside a week during the year to acknowledge and celebrate the school's diversity. They want to implement the plan by next spring.

Castillo, a sophomore, said her fellow students suggested the concept during its action plan discussion at the Calling All Colors event at Hope College.

The diversity-related gathering for high school students was designed to increase cultural awareness and offer a place to openly discuss race relations, according to organizers.

Castillo said meeting with about 150 students from West Michigan motivated her to go back to her school and make a difference.

"Let's get excited. Let's get pumped," she said about how she felt. "We are so diverse."

The daylong conference was sponsored by Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, an organization dedicated to racial harmony.

The group has hosted a similar conference for middle school students the past 11 years, but decided high school students needed to be involved, too.

Gail Harrison, executive director of the alliance, said the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area made a contribution to get the new program started. She said the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance's purpose from the beginning has been to support diversity.

"There were people of color in the community that did not feel welcome into the life of the community," she said. Students began the day with a dialogue about racial issues. They began talking about stereotypes much faster than middle school students, according to organizers."It went better than I thought," said Ortencia Bos, program director. "It's just a different level."

In the afternoon, the students were split into groups to learn a specific cultural activity they would perform later.

The final performance featured plenty of laughter, clapping and music as the students put their activities into action.

Erika Morales, a sophomore at Wavecrest Career Academy, an alternative education school, learned Japanese dancing during the afternoon. She said she was sore afterward because she forgot to stretch.

"You have to be flexible in order to do it," she said with a smile.Miguel Fierro, a senior at Wavecrest Career Academy, said he enjoyed talking with other students Tuesday who had faced the same racial challenges he had.

"I think, after awhile, everyone had input," he said. Rupi Nahal, a senior at Grand Haven High School, said her low expectations for the conference were replaced with fun.

"I really wasn't excited, but it got better," she said.Her senior classmate, Scott Suchecki, said he was encouraged to see how many people were out to make a difference about racism.

Local schools participating in Calling All Colors at Hope College:
*Holland High School
* West Ottawa High School
* Wavecrest Career Academy
* Zeeland West High School
* Zeeland East High School
* Holland Christian High School