Date: June 4, 2008
Article originally published in
The Herald-Palladium 05/28/2008.
Written by Debra Haight, HP Correspondent.
Reprinted with permission.
They should call it ‘Diversity High’
BERRIEN SPRINGS — Some people talk about cultural diversity and awareness, but with a student body that comes from all over the world, the Berrien Springs school district lives it.
Berrien Springs is easily the most diverse school system in the area, thanks mainly to the strong international student and faculty population of nearby Andrews University . About one-fourth of the high school’s student population is from other countries.
This month, as it does near the end of every school year, Berrien Springs High School students celebrated their diversity with a program of student performances highlighting their home cultures. Students sang, danced, played musical instruments and gave recitations during the 90-minute program.
Performances ranged from the singing of the black national anthem to the Beatles’ “Let it Be” and Spanish pop songs to reggae, jazz and African dance numbers. The assembly opened with the “Star Spangled Banner” played on electric guitar and ended with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Junior Vimbo Zvandasara, a Zimbabwe native, has taken part in the annual assembly every year, organizing a dozen or more girls from African and African-American backgrounds to learn and perform African dances.
She said she usually picks the music and the dance for the other girls. “It’s usually a mixture of what we know and what we’ve seen others do,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s a way for us to come together. It’s a nice way to end the year.”
At the program last week, Spanish culture was well represented, with seven students performing a Spanish dance and three others singing Spanish songs. David Zapata teamed with sisters Carla and Trisha Feijoo to sing “Labios Compartidos” and “Suavemente.”
“It gives us something to do that’s different and allows us to show off our culture,” David said. His heritage is Colombian, while the Feijoo sisters have Brazilian and Argentinian backgrounds.
Students new to the school this year include Filipe Santos from Brazil. He said he found the experience interesting and plans to stay here to go to college.
Alex Antonov came with his family this year from Russia. “There are more different cultures here and more interesting people,” he said.
The high school this year has been home to students from 36 countries, organizer and social studies teacher Julie Harner said. Five new countries were represented in this year’s procession of flags: Greece, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
“It’s been a long-standing tradition here,” Harner said. “I organize it and start making announcements in the late fall asking if students want to share their culture with a special dance or song. The students put it all together and practice.
“They take a lot of pride putting together this program. It’s an acknowledgment that they’re here and a part of Berrien Springs, Michigan, and the United States, but they’re also proud of their home culture.”
Harner said she stays involved with the program because it’s a way to promote tolerance and understanding of other cultures.
“One reason I do this is because I want to raise awareness and promote tolerance,” she said.
“We can all learn a little more about each other, and it gives you a softer heart toward others.”