• Culinary Arts students set up food for the patron tour lunch
  • Culinary Arts students set up for the patron tour
  • Culinary Arts student puts the finishing touch on malva pudding cake

Students learn about different cultures for Black History Month

“We’re like a family,” said senior Carmen Chacon of her peers in the Culinary Arts program. Like most families, the students wanted to learn about and honor one another. Food was a natural way for these young chefs to get closer.

Part of the process meant acknowledging diversity among the program’s members. More than half are students of color. The program’s demographics track the overall demographics of its home, the Fort Vancouver High School Center for International Studies, which celebrates diversity as part of its effort to make students globally aware and engaged.

During Black History Month, Culinary Arts students researched African, black and African-American cultures and traditions and incorporated their learning into food. Then the students landed the opportunity to cater a high-profile event for the district: the luncheon at the superintendent’s patron tour, which brings the Vancouver community into its schools.

Students developed for the Feb. 23 tour a special menu inspired in part by what they learned during Black History Month. Tour-goers were treated to a crowd-pleasing feast and a special dessert: a sweet, spongy South African dessert called malva pudding cake.

Planning and executing the meal was a labor of love. “We put a lot of effort into our food and much thought,” said sophomore Aaliyah Dupuy. She added, “I like cooking for people, just to see the look on their faces when they eat the food that we cook. It makes me happy.”

But the students hoped that tour-goers left the meal with more than just full stomachs. In addition to showing love and respect for others through their menu, the student-chefs intended also to supply food for thought. Said Chacon, “I hope that people take away that black history is as important as any history that there is.”

Celebrating Black History Month

Exploring different cultures in a variety of ways wasn’t limited to one program, one school or even one month, however.

Schools across the district observed black history different ways. While Vancouver Public Schools always celebrated Black History Month and heritage commemoration months, this year the district collaborated with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter and founder Cecelia Towner to collect resources for teachers and schools that can be used in the classroom and are appropriate for students at all levels. “We appreciate the supportive collaboration of the local Black Lives Matter organization in developing some of the resources provided to our teachers,” said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Layne Manning. The district plans to continue to grow this collection of resources over time and develop similar resources that recognize races and cultures as part of a larger effort to honor and celebrate the diverse cultures of students.

Some of the resources were used at Columbia River High School, for example, to add objects to a display case in the school’s commons area. The school plans to make this a continuing display and work with students and families of color to grow the display and plan additional activities that honor diversity.

Every Vancouver school commemorated Black History Month. Examples of Black History Month activities also included:

  • At Alki Middle School, students studied Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement and the history of slavery.
  • Demonstrating that black history deserves more than just a month, Eisenhower Elementary students facilitated and led an assembly on Martin Luther King Jr. in January and in February held a Family Engagement Night with an “Around the World” theme featuring many countries and Africa specifically.
  • Felida Elementary fourth-grade students shared information about notable black Americans during the school’s morning newscasts, which also featured reports on class activities related to Black History Month.
  • Coach Dennis Carline at the Fort Vancouver High School Center for International Studies continued his tradition of creating the Black History Museum at Fort for students to visit during classes and lunchtime.
  • Over at Lake Shore Elementary, students developed e-books featuring notable African-Americans, wrote research papers about African and African-American leaders and created dances inspired by their learning about slaves’ struggle to flee captivity
  • The Annual Heritage Showcase at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics will include African-American step dance and a short film that features Henrietta Lacks. The assembly was originally scheduled for Feb. 21. Schools were closed that day due to inclement weather. The showcase will be rescheduled for a later date.