Alyssa Mulroy smiled broadly as Fatuma Ali draped a light blue hijab over her head and around her neck on Thursday at Red River High School.
"I like it," said Mulroy, noting that she's never worn a hijab. "It's so soft."
The two students were taking part in the school's first Culture Fair, an event spearheaded by seniors Grace Robinson and Claire Anderson who wanted to encourage their fellow Red River students to learn more about the diverse cultures represented in the student body.
At the daylong event, students could taste foods, hear music and watch dances that are part of the culture and background of the roughly 120 young immigrants at their school who are from countries such as Nepal, Somalia, China and the Philippines.
Students lined up to sample dishes such as sambusa at the Somali table, while a few feet away others were clustered around another table, eager to try on the hijab headscarves.
The Culture Fair emerged as a project of the innovations class, led by Eric Sanders, who asked his students to identify a problem and come up with ways to solve it.
In his class, Sanders said, "students come to find their passions and use those passions to engage in the world and solve problems."
Robinson has noticed very little interaction among students of diverse backgrounds at Red River, she said. "I have set a goal to change this."
She thought that "if students had the opportunity experience the culture of the new Americans, they'd be more likely to interact with them in the future," she said.
So she organized the Culture Fair to encourage more student interaction which, she hopes, will lead to better understanding of other cultures and more friendships among the diverse students who walk the same halls.
"My project is based on the simple idea that food, music and dancing will bring people together," she said.
Students performed traditional dancing, showcasing Nepalese, Somali and Korean pop dances, in the school's performance hall and outside.
Ione Seidlinger, who as a paraprofessional teaches in the English language development class, said, "I'm hoping our students are recognized for all the good they bring to the community."
"Watching everybody smiling as they're coming in, it's wonderful to see everyone interacting," she said.
Many of the girls wore the traditional full-length garments of their native countries.
"We told the Somalis to come dressed traditionally," Seidlinger said, "and they love to do that."
Another English language teacher, Kristijana Dogan, said, "Grace Robinson has offered a wonderful opportunity for students. Building bridges between students is what she's accomplished."
Robinson hopes the event will have a positive effect on her fellow students, no matter their background, she said. "On a daily basis, I hope people will feel more comfortable."
"It's been a lot work," she said, smiling as she looked at all the activity. "There's a great turnout."
Although she's in her final year of school, she hopes others will carry the ball forward, she said.
"I hope it'll continue and become a yearly thing."