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‘Our Diversity is Our Strength’

School Celebrates Students’ Multinational Heritage


At Bowen Elementary School, students come from 26 countries and that’s a reason for celebration.

Proud to be Nepali, Prana Sanyasi, left, and Puja Dhakal are all grins

At the second annual Parade of Nations, 100 students, clad in ethnic dress and waving flags from their home countries, created a parade representing places all over the globe, from Albania to Vietnam.

“At Bowen, 33 percent of students call home another country,” said Principal Blair Feldkamp, as he introduced the students. “To me, that is absolutely amazing. Today we are going to celebrate our kids.”

Big cheers came from the crowd of students, parents and teacher gathered in the gymnasium, as students from countries including Nepal, Rwanda and Sudan were announced.

English language-learner teacher Katie Lett organized the parade to kick off Multicultural Literacy Night, during which each class researched a country and shared its traditional food, songs, games and activities with parents.

Third-grader Camilla Nguyen gazes out from under a Vietnamese hat

‘We All Swim Together’

Lett said when she was a graduate student at Grand Valley State University, a classmate shared how her school put on a Parade of Nations every year. She and Feldkamp attended.

“When the tears welled up in my eyes I knew I needed to bring this tradition to Kentwood,” Lett said. “So often, our diversity is seen asa deficit, but what I hope this parade helps to underline is that, actually, our diversity is our strength.”

Many Bowen students are refugees from war-torn countries.

“I think very highly of my students and the refugee community as a whole; they are my life’s passion,” Lett said. “To watch as an entire gym expresses what my heart feels, fills me with hope for our future as a community and highlights the theme of the event, ‘We may all be different fish, but we all swim together.'”

Fifth-grader Sumaya Hanson said she was proud to represent Puerto Rico.

“We want to represent our countries so we can be together instead of divided by celebrating other people’s different cultures,” she said.

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SNN article on Katie Lett

Connor Cullin stretches the South African flag wide

Walking for Congo, students parade through the gymnasium

Ranish Dhakal waves Bhutan flags

Bowen Elementary students cheer for students from all over the world

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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