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River Hill celebrates school diversity at Cultural Awareness Night

As the song "Timber" rocked through the speakers, the crowd gathered for River Hill High School's Cultural Awareness Night couldn't stay seated — soon everyone joined in for a Zumba demonstration.

"I did Zumba," laughed Amy Hairston, the schools choral director, catching her breath. As faculty sponsor of the River Hill's Cultural Awareness Club, which organized the March 25 festivities, Hairston was enjoying herself after all the work the group put into organizing the night.

"This is the third year I spearheaded this," Hairston said. "We have 16 groups here. They share a specific culture within the school. There are ethnic, activist and religious groups here."

Each group had a display set up in the cafeteria that featured information about their country or group, as well as activities ranging from Chinese paper art to henna tattoos.

"I'm kind of good at it," said River Hill sophomore Chandi Patel as she designed a tattoo on an outstretched hand. "I'm from India, and they do [henna tattoos] on us for weddings. I get my designs from them."

Other groups offered bracelets for sale or offered a variety of foods to guests. Many members wore traditional clothing. Entertainment included dance performances, singing and a performance by a student improvisation group.

"This is so well done," said Karen Wittkamper, a math teacher and adviser for the school's Bollywood dance team. "Amy Hairston did a great job. I'm glad it could be held and [the Bollywood group] could perform."

Student Resham Kapur created the Bollywood dance team at River Hill last year. The troupe performed to a crowd Tuesday and received enthusiastic applause.

"I really like to dance," Kapur, a junior, said. "When we first started, there were seven girls. Now there are 15. It's a good number, but I want more people."

"They're a great group of girls," Wittkamper said. "They practice a lot."

River Hill has a student body just over 1,340 students, about 40 percent of them minorities, according to Howard County public schools. The school devoted this past week to a celebration of culture and diversity. In addition to Culture Awareness Night, there were numerous events throughout the week to celebrate different cultures, as well as guest speakers and a schoolwide assembly scheduled Friday featuring performances by school groups. Each student at River Hill also worked on a project about his or her "hero" from around the world.

Lauren Levey attended the event with her daughter, Robyn, 14.

"I always come to multicultural events," Levey said. "I like to support them and show [Robyn] the different cultures."

"We have worked very hard the entire year just for this event," said senior Nikki Donboli, president of the Cultural Awareness Club.

"It's very delightful to see how many people came out," said junior Lauren Jakobsson. "It's so nice and makes us so happy."

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