2008-03-05 Holland Sentinel "Teen event hopes to promote diversity "

Teen event hopes to promote diversity
Calling All Colors brings together students from 11 schools
The Holland Sentinel

Ottawa County teenagers put their heads together Tuesday, looking for ways to create awareness about racial diversity.

Students from Holland, Holland Christian, West Ottawa, Zeeland's East and West high schools and Wavecrest Career Academy met with students from five other schools in a conference at Grand Valley State University in Allendale.

Martin Perez, a sophomore at Zeeland East, said he liked brainstorming solutions to racism with the other students.

"We usually just mention it at school, like 'That guy is treating that guy like an outsider,' but now we're all talking about what we can do about it," he said.

The students were members of Calling All Colors student groups that began meeting this year on high school campuses to promote diversity. The student groups -- sponsored by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance -- had only existed in area middle schools before this year.

Each of the student groups developed an action plan to promote awareness in its high school and presented its plans during the morning meeting. Later in the day, students discussed various strategies for implementing the programs, played mixer games and listened to an address by Jeanne Arnold, GVSU's vice president for inclusion and equality.

"It's really great to see how they're really willing to lead," said Raquel Balderas, the faculty adviser for Zeeland. "Our world has been separated for so long, and I think they want to be able to bond with anyone, no matter with what race or culture."

Holland Christian Schools in 2006 began an organization-wide initiative to increase diversity in the schools. Aleesa Ribbens, a high school junior, said that the student body -- about 6 percent of which right now is made up of racial minorities -- won't become more diverse in a day.

Students participate in the Mix It Up activity at Calling All Colors Tuesday in Allendale.