Student-organized event highlights the diversity of our community

Student-organized event highlights the diversity of our community
Posted on 12/05/2023
OHS International Culture DayOne of Sahnam Mohabbat’s favorite things about attending Oakville High School is the diversity of the student body. She approached the school administration about creating an event to highlight and celebrate the school’s multiculturalism.

OHS Principal Brian Brennan loved the idea, and Sahnam began planning an International Culture Day. She first visited every advisory class at OHS to identify students interested in participating. 

Albanian student on the runway
Image: An OHS student whose family is from Albania walks the run way carrying the Albanian flag.

After compiling the list of students and countries, Sahnam planned an event that included a runway fashion show where students wore authentic clothing and carried flags from their home countries. Several groups of students – and even a few parents – also performed traditional dances in front of a cheering crowd of students and staff.

 The countries represented were Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Germany, Guatemala, Iraq, Kurdistan, Mexico, Palestine, Turkey, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. The event was held on November 1, 2023.

“So many people were surprised by the dances and clothing from different countries,” said Sahnam. “It made an impact with people wanting to learn more about other people and their background.” 

German student performs
Image: An OHS student whose family is from Germany performs a dance with a family member.

Sharing cultures with classmates is important to her because of her own experience. Sahnam’s parents both came to the United States from Afghanistan, and her family has worked to preserve their traditions. At home, Sahnam and her family speak Dari to keep the language alive. Dari is a dialect of Farsi mostly spoken by Persians. They also cook food, dance and listen to music from Afghanistan.

“Even though I’ve never been to my home country, I want to keep that part of me always there,” said Sahnam. In addition to planning and emceeing the event, Sahnam also performed an Attan dance with other students from Afghanistan. The dance dates back more than three thousand years and differs depending on the area or tribe. Originally, men would perform the Attan before going into battle. Over time it became a dance performed by both men and women.

Sahnam dancing
Image: Sahnam performs the Attan dance with other students whose families are also from Afghanistan.

Keri Wilson, a French teacher at OHS, sponsors the school’s International Club. She believes International Culture Day was important for students' sense of belonging, particularly for those who have recently moved to the United States.

“It means a lot for them to feel seen,” said Wilson. “A lot of times they’re trying to blend in. It’s nice for them to be appreciated for their heritage and culture and share that with others and see that others are interested in getting to know them better.”

Sahnam is still weighing her options for after graduation. She hopes to one day be a fashion creative director and is planning to pursue degrees in both fashion and business. Although she is graduating in the class of 2024, she hopes International Culture Day will continue next school year to highlight the diversity at Oakville High School.

Wilson hopes to build on the success of International Culture Day when Mehlville High School and Oakville High School students collaborate to host an International Festival on April 26. The event will include traditional fashion, music and dances, as well as cuisine, games and more. 

The Mehlville School District strictly prohibits discrimination and harassment against employees, students or others on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, or sex including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity and other characteristics protected by law. The following individuals have been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: contact Adam Smith at 314-467-5006 or [email protected].