Greeted by cheering teens waving the flags of nearly 40 countries, visitors to Cascade High School relished an evening as culturally rich as a trip around the world.
With flags held aloft, dozens of kids flanked the entrance to the school cafeteria Wednesday.
Asked which flag she held, freshman Jemima Kipoy proudly answered, “Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Holding a banner that served as the flag of South Vietnam were Kelly Dang and Alex Nguyen. Near the doorway was BJ Kolly, a 6-foot-7 sophomore whose heritage is Gambian.
”Welcome to Culture Night,” said a sign hanging in the cafeteria entryway. “Let’s share our similarities and celebrate our differences.”
“This is one of my dreams come true,” said Jessica Montalvo-Lopez, who teaches AP Spanish and Spanish heritage at the Everett school. Montalvo-Lopez, who was born in Peru, and English teacher Mike Cane were faculty organizers of the event.
In both English and Spanish, Principal Cathy Woods welcomed the crowd in the packed cafeteria to what she said was “the first annual Culture Night.” Later came a program that included dance, a fashion show of clothing from many countries, and spoken-word poetry.
“I wish I could speak all the languages,” Woods said.
The principal said Cane and Montalvo-Lopez had a great idea, wrote a grant application, and involved students and families. Visitors didn’t have to look far to see — and taste — the contributions made by parents and other family members. Around the room were booths featuring food, artwork, clothing, musical instruments and other items.
At one booth, teacher Melissa Webster was serving traditional desserts brought by Cascade freshman Zahraa Al-Nuaman, whose father came from Iraq in the 1990s. “My mom and my aunt made them,” the teen said as people lined up to try the treats made with chocolate and cream cheese.
Webster was overseeing a display that included an old Soviet Army cap worn by one student’s grandfather. It also showcased a stringed instrument from Libya called an oud, and a picture of Malala Yousafzai, the young Nobel Peace Prize winner from Pakistan who has championed education for girls.
“Isn’t it great? Everett’s changing,” said Webster, who teaches government and AP human geography.
Cascade junior Jaxon Roberts, treasurer of the ASB, looked over several types of food at the Black Student Union booth before asking a girl there, Khaddija Folana, “What do you recommend?” Also a junior, she pointed to a fried dough treat she said is popular in her family’s homeland of The Gambia in West Africa.
Roberts was glad to see what he called “a ton of turnout” at Culture Night.
After the event’s open-house portion, a ceremony brought all the flag-bearers to the stage. In a gesture showing that a focus on cultures will continue at Cascade, student Cindy Gonzalez passed a Mexican flag to her younger sister, Perla Gonzalez.
“This really creates a sense of belonging for kids and families,” said Gary Cohn, superintendent of the Everett School District, who attended Wednesday’s event. Kathy Reeves, the district’s director of communications, said about 18 of its 26 schools host annual cultural nights. “It is always a popular event,” she said.
Pam LeSesne, an Everett School Board member, was there. She took time to meet students and parents, sample foods, and applaud diverse performances — Mexican-American dance troupes, powerful spoken-word poetry, and a scene-stealing toddler who joined an older sibling in a traditional Vietnamese dance.
“It was just wonderful,” LeSesne said. “I appreciated all the effort families took to support their students.”
LeSesne said she indulged in all the different flavors, “too much probably, but I couldn’t help it.”
“Students would say, ‘Try this, try this.’ I definitely did,” LeSesne said. “The kids were so genuine — they were genuine about their culture and wanting to share that.”
One mom, Marina Chen, helps with Cascade’s Natural Leaders, a multicultural volunteer parents program. A native of Guatemala, she and her daughter, Bethsy Chen, answered questions at their Guatemala booth. “We need to be involved in our kids’ school,” Marina Chen said.
Among teachers sharing their cultures were Kathy Lockwood and Ryan Wolk, who teach German. Wolk wore knee-length lederhosen. Lockwood was at a booth offering German-style ginger cookies.
In her 20 years at Cascade, Lockwood has seen much change and growing diversity. “We’re embracing it, and trying to make this more of a community,” she said.
Zahraa Al-Nuaman, who was born in the United States, has been to Iraq with her parents. She said she’s experienced prejudice. Yet looking around a cafeteria that for one night became a whole world, she saw hope.
“Seeing all this, I see a better future,” she said.