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Island High School Builds Community with Roots and Culture Thursdays

Every Thursday at lunch, Island High School students and staff celebrate the many dynamic cultures that shape the foundation of their school community.

Called “Roots and Culture,” the weekly gathering is a concept born out of the youth leadership meetings at Island.

"The idea of R&C Thursdays drew inspiration from the diverse student body and population of the Bay Area,” says Aki Moore, a Student Support Provider at the school. “Having grown up here, I was surrounded by and influenced by cultures from all over the world. R&C is a simple way to bring attention to and celebrate our vibrant cultures and educate each other about ourselves."

The planning and activities for each event vary depending on the personality of that week’s host and could include music, trivia, food, or dance. "It always involves brainstorming with our youth leadership members,” Moore adds.

Past events have included Mexican, African American, and Japanese cultural celebrations hosted by staff and students. The recent El Salvador Roots and Culture event was hosted by David Orellana Delgado, an Alameda Family Services employee and UC Berkeley College Corps Fellow who works at the School-Based Health Center at Island High School. Staff and students drank horchata, ate Salvadoran treats, and read informational posters about Salvadoran culture and history to prepare themselves for a trivia game. Turn out was great, and once trivia started, it attracted and engaged students who had been reluctant to join the crowd initially.

"The response is always positive. Not only are we celebrating and having fun, but there is always an element of education involved," says Moore, "We make sure that students and staff are in some way involved and that there is a way for students to earn credit for their participation."

Students who participated and watched expressed how much they appreciated the social and historical elements of the activities. They asked questions about Salvadoran culture and even shared some of their thoughts and experiences about both Salvadoran culture and their own cultures.

“I am really proud of our collective staff and student effort to bring our Roots and Culture days to life! We see a huge development in a student’s sense of inclusion, that they are truly a part of the school community,” said Island High School Principal Ben Washofsky, “We also see the rest of the student body learning about the culture of their classmates in an authentic way, from trivia and conversation, to music and homemade cooking. It also goes on to further learning and conversation that lasts well beyond just the roots and culture day activities.”

The practice, which started this year, is in its early days. Moore is excited to see how it will continue to grow and change with time and the people who are a part of the school community.

"The vision for R&C is for the community to come together and honor ourselves,” Moore says. “And for our academic lives to be colored by who we are as a people and for people to find value and worth not only in their own experience but in the lives of those around them. Events such as holidays or months dedicated to individual cultures have their place, but expression of culture should be a regular practice."