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Friday, May 6, 2016

Dining on Diversity

Monday, November 26, 2001

Egg rolls and burritos for Thanksgiving dinner?

For students at Storm Lake High School, those entrees have become just as much a part of their Thanksgiving holiday as hot turkey and steaming mashed potatoes.

Students, teachers and administrators at the school participated in the traditional diversity dinner Wednesday afternoon, and added nontraditional Thanksgiving foods such as tacos and ramen noodles to their plates full of stuffing and creamed corn.

The event at SLHS began nine years ago, and high school teacher Jim Nichols said the diversity dinner's popularity has skyrocketed over the past several Thanksgiving seasons.

"(Principal) Mike Hanna and I got together and thought this would be one way in which we could include more minority students into the high school and into the culture as well," Nichols said. "It's been great to see the growth of this. Last year we served about 100 people and this year we had about 160 people pass through the line to eat the food. It was great."

Students were able to select from a wide array of cuisines at the diversity dinner, including turkey, egg rolls, tacos, ramen noodles, hot potatoes, rices, beans and potato slaw, and a multitude of different desserts were also available for the partakers of the meal.

Students in Salli Nichols' two sections of Spanish Grammar II classes and English as Second Language courses each contributed ethnic items such as tacos and egg rolls, and Jim's 35 Peer Helper students each brought foods such as potatoes, bean casseroles and an assortment of desserts and pies.

Planning for the diversity dinner began in earnest several weeks ago, when the Nichols put up signs in their classes advertising the event and asking students if they would be willing to participate in the organization of the meal.

While students were not required to bring food to the diversity dinner, Jim said many of the students chose to do so, and that the large amount of food was key in feeding the multitude of people who attended the festivities.

"By no means did the students have to bring stuff, but we just asked them if they could contribute in whatever way they felt they could," Jim said. "There was a lot of freedom in choosing what types of foods they wanted. They could bring in four pies or they could bring in 30 pounds of mashed potatoes."

After the food was delivered to the school early Wednesday morning, the Nichols and their students all helped with preparatory activities, including setting up the classroom where the food would be served, stocking the provisions in refrigerators and ovens until noon hour and setting up tables and chairs in the school's hallways.

Nichols said he was extremely proud of how all of the students took charge of the entire process and made sure the event was successful.

"The kids were really good about pitching in and helping in any way they could," he said. "A lot of the kids were in at school pretty early in the morning helping to prepare some of the food, and they were involved in everything from the food to setting up the tables and chairs to cleaning up everything after it was over. I'm pretty proud of the way they helped do this."

Jim also said that the event has become successful in large part due to the cooperation he has received over the years, allowing students the time to help prepare the meal during the morning hours and clean up after the event during the afternoon.

"It's been really important to have the support from administration and the teachers," Jim said. "Many of the teachers let the students get out of their classes to help prepare everything, and Mr. Hanna and the other administrators have really lent their support to this as well. It's one reason why this has become a successful event."

One of the goals of the diversity dinner is to help the students understand and appreciate all of their varying cultures more completely, and Nichols said the Thanksgiving meal has been a valuable piece of the puzzle to help make that goal become reality.

"The kids are in the hallways together all day long and eat together and participate in activities together, so I think this is just another way to bring kids from different worlds together," he said. "And by different worlds, I don't mean just ethnicity. Learning disabled and behavior disabled students are also involved with this, so we're bringing everyone together for this meal."

The diversity dinner will celebrate its 10th anniversary next November, and Nichols said he hopes to see the event continue to be celebrated at SLHS for many more years.

"There have been so many positives that have come from this, so we're going to continue to do this for a long time to come."

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