Challenger Elementary’s Festival of Cultures celebrates diversity

February 7, 2012

By Tom Corrigan

Nuoyan Zhang, 6, plays the Chinese instrument known in English as the koto during the Festival of Cultures held recently at Challenger Elementary School Photo by Tom Corrigan

The American table had a bag of food from McDonald’s and a Dorothy doll straight out of the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz.”

A Mexican table featured ethnic toys, including a Spanish Monopoly game. The Japanese table had a lot of visitors, perhaps all wanting to try what turned out to be some surprisingly tasty Spam sushi.

“It just opens everybody’s eyes,” Challenger Elementary Principal Sue McPeak said.

She was referring not only to her school’s sixth annual Festival of Cultures, but the diversity that inspired that event.

The festival was held at Challenger Jan. 27. The school cafeteria was packed with tables celebrating 23 countries, many of which are represented by students at Challenger and other Issaquah School District buildings, said Anny Figueroa, one of two co-chairwomen of the Challenger event.

Each festival table featured items from a different country, along with important facts about that country. Most also had food from the country. Figueroa noted some parent volunteers had planned and manned a table at the event for five or six years.

Usually, but not always, the tables reflected the ethnic background of the person manning the table. Parent Erin Turtell said she had put together a table for four years. This year, she did both Switzerland and Ireland.

“I have to have at least one country that has chocolate,” Turtell said.

In addition to the various tables and booths, there was plenty of culturally themed entertainment at the front of the cafeteria, including choirs and various performers. New this year was a costume fashion show, the event’s other co-chairwoman, Bev Sakamoto, said.

The festival is really the culminating event of a series of happenings celebrating the diversity at Challenger and the school district in general, said McPeak, who added that diversity is a good thing in her mind.

“I think it just adds a richness to everything,” she said.

Prior to the festival, students were invited to come to school in costumes representing their national heritage. Children greeted classmates in their country’s language during morning announcements and told a little bit about those countries. Hand-drawn paper flags were hung in the hallways of the school.

“It’s fun,” said fourth-grader Vincent Bennett, who was dressed in an outfit representing his mother’s native country of Belarus, once part of the former Soviet Union.

“It’s interesting,” he added, “to learn about different cultures.”

The presence of large, international firms, such as Microsoft and The Boeing Co., draw people from around the world to this area, McPeak said. The cultural festival is one way of making such people feel they are part of the community while at the same time keeping ethnic traditions alive.

“We are always looking for community-building events,” McPeak said.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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