Wilde Lake High School celebrates its cultural cornucopia HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION

December 21, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Wilde Lake High School junior Rubin Singh wears a turban every day to keep his waist-length hair clean and out of the way. He has a full face of hair -- he's never shaved and he never will.

It's part of his Sikh religion, which prohibits men from cutting hair.

Rubin, 16, a presenter Wednesday at the school's Cultural Awareness Day, invited questions from students. He and his sister, who graduated two years ago, are the first Sikhs to attend the school.

"Can you put gel in your hair?" one student asked.

"When you play football, can you take your turban off?" asked another.

Rubin was one of about 20 students who made presentations about their culture and traditions in small sessions to about 1,000 students. Others made presentations on Italian, French, Norwegian, Swedish, and Ethiopian cultures, as well as Islamic and Hindu religions.

"What I want them to learn is that some of the stereotypes they believe as true are not," said Eric Ebersole, a math teacher who coordinated the event. "It gives students an opportunity to break down some of these stereotypes."

It was the second Cultural Awareness Day at Wilde Lake, the county's most diverse school. More than 30 percent of its students are black, 10 percent Asian and about 3 percent Hispanic.

"Wilde Lake High School is a very culturally diverse high school," said Sara Ibrahim, a twelfth-grade Ethiopian student who brought in a video of a traditional wedding, typically a weeklong event. "There's a lot of ignorance, but at the same time, people try to learn about the different cultures. The people really try to understand."

Sara moved to Columbia in 1987 from the city of Addis Ababa. She learned to speak English in three months, but is still learning to read and write. She fielded such questions as "what is the main export of the country?" (coffee) and "where is it located?" (east Africa) from students afterward.

"A lot of people . . . think the whole of Ethiopia is starving, but it's really two states that are starving," she said. "It's like in the United States. There's homeless and starvation, but in certain places."

Attending a school that has such a diverse student population has helped sophomore Rasha El-Haggan, 15, adjust to American life. The Egyptian student follows the Islamic faith and must cover her body and hair as part of her religion.

"I'm not the only person who wears a scarf," said Rasha. "There are four or five other girls who do. The students are really nice, nicer than in other schools in Maryland I went to."

She talked about her religion, its pillars and beliefs.

Senior Shamim Sinnar, also Islamic, was glad to have the chance to dispel Islamic myths.

"I think the students who asked them honestly wanted to find out," she said. "Many times, people think they're going to offend me, but I'd rather have them ask me than harbor misconceptions."

"The kids certainly learned a lot," said Moreno Carrasco, the school's vice principal who hails from the Dominican Republic.

He and his wife danced the merengue for students.

"Particularly, they thought Latin America food was tacos and enchiladas. But these foods come from Central America, mainly from Mexico. I didn't have my first taco until I came to America."

Students asked him whether he had adopted American culture and whether people gave him and his wife, who is white, problems.

"They also asked how I learned English and which language I used more," said Mr. Carrasco. "They asked me how often I go back home and what was difficult about me coming to this country. I loved it. I think when people ask questions, they really want to know the answer."

He says it's rewarding to work in a school that's so racially and ethnically diverse. He's often called to translate French and Spanish for parents who don't speak the language well.

"It is interesting to note that right here in Howard County, we have a school that reflects the national trend. Wilde Lake is probably going to be the typical school in the county in 10 to 15 years, when the population will be even more diverse."

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