East Kentwood High School seniors Jai’Ana Moore and Zachary VanderScheer wanted to bring students together over food from different countries and cultures. While they brought in Turkey Knuckles and Dutch cookies to their International Food Day event, they tasted other foods from all over the globe.
“We were talking about diversity and everybody likes food,” Jai’Ana said. “People speak through their food and it’s a nice way to break the ice.”
So the students planned the event, inviting their peers who represent nearly 90 different countries and speak many different languages at the school. Their first event in October was such a big success that they hosted a second one in March.
They invited students to bring in dishes and treats representative of their heritages. Students served up everything from Swedish meatballs to Bosnianpastries, African cuisine and Nepali chicken dishes. The food-festival idea was born out of the Advanced Teen Leadership class’ Challenge Day, a one-day event involving staff and student aimed at building empathy, leadership and inspiring change.
“Food is different between cultures and religions and bringing in different foods helps you experience the cultures a little bit,” Zachary said.
Mel Trombley, Advanced Teen Leadership and Student Council teacher, said six or seven students in Advanced Leadership are English Language Learners, and they were very eager to bring in foods to share.
“This was one of the first big events when we all came together and it was really cool to see all the different foods. They were really proud of it,” Trombley said.
Jai’Ana and Tyler said they wanted an event that gave people something to connect over in a cool way. “It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone to get to know people you wouldn’t normally talk to,” Jai’Ana said.
EL interventionist Dilly Gautam said food helps bridge gaps for students. “Learning is not just teaching them words and sentences. It’s more effective through culture.”