Manea Al-Masoodi springs through the air during a lunchtime dance performance on International Day at Lewiston High School.
LEWISTON — Davion Jackson held a microphone, wore a big smile and an African hat and shirt as he introduced the next act during International Day at Lewiston High School on Thursday.
“All right, all right, we’ve got one more for you!” he said. “They’re going to do their thing, so you guys do what you do! Let’s go!”
Lively African music played. Dancers in bright clothing started to move.
The cafeteria audience abandoned their lunch trays to cheer and applaud the student performers. Some held up phones to take photos and video; a few stood on chairs.
Next door in the multipurpose room, dozens of tables staffed by students offered food from around the world, including Egypt, Somalia, the United States, China, Angola, Canada, Ireland, Thailand, India, Spain and Mexico.
A group of white boys walked in asking: “Where are the samosas?”
Samosas are savory pastry dough fried in ghee or oil and filled with spiced vegetables or meat and often served by local Somalis.
Friday was the second International Day at Lewiston High, a school where 30 percent of the students were born in other countries or their first language is not English.
The day is organized by English language learner teacher Patty MacKinnon, who was zipping around overseeing details Thursday.
“Excuse me, this is the Egypt table,” she said to students. “I’d like you to put hummus in these small containers.”
The high school and its student population of not quite 1,440 seems to represent a small version of the United Nations. Students say they get along.
“There’s so many of us; there’s always somebody new to meet,” said Kaitlyn Reny, 17, as she stood behind the Canadian table that offered french fries with cheese. “You can find something in common with anybody, no matter where you’re from,” she said.
Back in the cafeteria, Christelle Nyamundu, 17, said she came to Lewiston last June. Before that she lived in Texas for five months, and before that, Congo.
One of the dancers, she wore a bright Angola shirt, her hair in tight braids. She speaks six languages, including French and Swahali. This was her first International Day at Lewiston High School.
“It’s good. I like it. I would like to do more,” Nyamundu said.
Abdimalik Alew, 16, said he was born in Lewiston, and his parents are from Somalia. He wore a long, black dress, a formal outfit for Somali men.
He said he likes how the day allows students to hear different types of music, sample different types of food and see different types of clothing.
Davion Jackson, 16, the emcee, said the day was “amazing.”
Talking about all of the international flags hanging in the cafeteria, he said, “”This brings our school close together when we celebrate it. It makes them part of our Lewiston family.”
Principal Shawn Chabot was in the gym, watching the acts, keeping an eye on students.
“The day is going absolutely great,” Chabot said. “Patty MacKinnon and other adults have put a lot of work into this.”
MacKinnon and other staff wore matching shirts that said “Lewiston High School celebrates diversity.” On the back, the shirts said “Bye” in English, then offered the word in eight other languages.
Chabot said the students who helped organize the day “have really taken the lead and done a lot of work.” The school climate is one, he said, where overall, students intermingle and get along.
The International Day is “really a good example of what our high school has become, celebrating all the different ethnic groups we have in our school.”
Julia Chabot plays violin during a lunchtime International Day performance at Lewiston High School as part of a quartet with Taylor Chamberlain, Jordan Smiley and Brooke Smiley.
Davion Jackson is the emcee for International Day at Lewiston High School on Friday afternoon.
Khamar Jibril dances during a lunchtime performance on International Day at Lewiston high School on Friday.
Davion Jackson enjoys a couple of plates of international specialties at International Day at Lewiston High School on Thursday.
International flags hang in Lewiston High School’s cafeteria. Thirty-four languages, including English, are spoken at the school.
Diversity in Lewiston schools
How many languages spoken by students? 34, including English.
How many students are English language learners? 1,560 in grades pre-K through 12, or 28.6 percent. That doesn’t include the 171 students who have tested out of the ELL program.
The number of Portuguese speakers has increased significantly over the past three years, with most coming from Angola.
Lewiston schools continue to see a rise in students who are new to the country, which has meant McMahon, Farwell and Geiger elementary schools went from having few or no newcomers to a handful or more.
Why celebrate diversity?
All students benefit from living in a community that values diversity, whether that diversity is race or religion, according to English language learner program Director Hilary Barber.
It’s important for students to learn how to build relationships with people who are different, that knowing how to work with and communicate with people from different backgrounds is an important skill for adults in the 21st century, Barber she said.
Lewiston’s ELL programs are fully funded by the state; the amount covered is an additional 54 percent higher than for English-speaking students, Superintendent Bill Webster said. The additional state money covers ELL program costs.
Source: Hilary Barber, Lewiston School Department
A shirt made by Lewiston High School’s International Club was worn by some during Friday’s International Day.