Parents lining the walls Friday morning at Auke Bay Elementary's gym could hear the children before they could see them.
"See the dragon come on a hundred legs. He brings a song of cheer if we do not fear," the children sang as they wound their way through the halls, following students under a cloth Chinese-style dragon, and entered the gym for the school's 14th annual multicultural parade and assembly.
Some students wore Tlingit regalia or cowboy clothes, others carried South Korean flags or Yupik dance fans, some draped themselves in painted Masai-style robes or wore grass skirts and leis.
"The songs and activities are geared to represent the diversity of the population of Auke Bay school," Principal Dave Newton told the assembly. "We try to make sure we have in some way represented and celebrated every culture at Auke Bay school."
First-graders used sign language to accompany a recording of Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World." Kindergartners performed the Tlingit canoe song and counting song.
Students in Skiman Jones' fifth-grade class started out as Masai hopping up and down to see over their herds, and then shed their robes to become modern hip-hop dancers, as break dancers flopped across the floor.
That was popular, but what really brought out the cheers and whistles in a sustained roar were staff members dancing El Pollito, the chicken dance.
The assembly closed with a slide show of the school's children, accompanied by parent Bernie Kirkpatrick on the piano.
"The reason we're here is to celebrate you," Newton told them. "There's no better way to celebrate you than to see you."
As the children sat in the darkened gym, faces illuminated by the screen's reflected light, their collective voices surged, punctuated by screams and laughter, as each slide came up.
Kirkpatrick's three children have experienced the multicultural assemblies at Auke Bay.
"I think they're just more accepting to different cultures, and welcoming," she said.
Each class, or sometimes two together, focuses on a different culture, said school music director Anne Boochever.
"They usually try to highlight the culture of a student who's in that classroom," she said. Teachers sometimes ask parents to talk to the classes. "So we really do reach out to the community, and we try to highlight the cultures that are here."
Some students in Jones' class let their hair grow out so they could braid it African-style, parent Jamie Bursell said.
The Juneau-Douglas High School drill team taught the students their hip-hop dance, fifth-grader April Conway said. They derived information about the Masai, such as the practice of jumping up and down, from a book.
"They had to look over the sheep and cattle, and they were looking for lions," Tyler Houseweart said.
Still, research has its limits. Masai women shave their heads.
"They thought they were more beautiful if they were bald, but none of the girls in the class wanted to do it," Tyler said.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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