WALLA WALLA -- Nearly 100 area children celebrated diversity through song, dance and a variety of other performances as part of Camp Fire's holiday program Tuesday night.
Held at Sharpstein Elementary in a packed gymnasium, the celebration brought together children from Berney, Edison, Green Park, Prospect Point and Sharpstein elementary schools who participate in the Camp Fire USA after-school program.
Program coordinator Ingrid Olsen-Young said each of the five schools was tasked with exploring two cultures. From there, the children worked to select the dances, songs, jokes and fun facts that would be shared throughout the night.
"They told me what they wanted, so I just kind of hunted around to see what I could find," Olsen-Young said.
Children from Prospect Point learned a Chinese ribbon dance, while Berney students put on a Vietnamese bamboo dance. Because it was also a holiday program, students performed Christmas songs and a Hanukkah song, and Edison students told holiday jokes throughout the show. The theme for the night was "Hello to All the Children of the World."
Hannah Peha, 10, prepared a piano solo of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Before that, the Prospect Point student participated in the ribbon dance with her classmates. Peha said learning the ribbon dance took work and careful study.
"It takes a lot of steps," she said. The students learned about China and customs, and also chose the Jewish faith as an area of study.
"It was cool to learn everything," Peha said.
Camp Fire is an enrichment program at five of the city's six public elementary schools, and is held every day after school until about 5:30 p.m. Olsen-Young said a few children from Blue Ridge Elementary also take part at Prospect Point.
Although launched initially as a girls group, Camp Fire USA has included boys since the 1970s and marked its 100th year serving youth this year. Camp Fire is non-denominational and is inclusive of a variety of backgrounds, said Executive Director Karen Wolf.
"That's what's great about it," Wolf said. "It is all-inclusive."
Olsen-Young said each day children do a range of activities, from getting help with homework, to playing games and spending time outdoors. Older children work on leadership skills.
The multicultural holiday program was a first for Camp Fire, and was modeled on a successful holiday program put on by the Sharpstein group last year.
"It was such a hit, we thought why not ask all the kids to do it," Olsen-Young said.
Students had the support of Stefanie Crumpacker-Flerchinger, a music education student at Walla Walla University. Crumpacker-Flerchiger handles music programming for Camp Fire, and worked with all the children at the various sites for weeks leading up to the show. About 140 children are currently served through Camp Fire locally.
Crumpacker-Flerchinger, whose degree emphasis at WWU is vocals, said plans for the holiday program were shaped almost entirely by the children.
"It all started when I asked the kids what they wanted to learn about," she said, which led them to dancing. Borrowing from their own backgrounds, children then asked about more specific cultures, like what some traditions are in Mexico, for example.
"They own their heritage, and love telling others about it," Crumpacker-Flerchinger said.
The show included 30 different acts, and the cultures and countries explored included China, Vietnam, Germany, Italy, France, Senegal, Mexico and the Jewish faith.
Sharpstein students studied American Sign Language, and presented "Silent Night." They also learned about Mexico and sang "Feliz Navidad" as a group.
Dressed in a flowing white skirt, with a green band around its base, Amy Coburn, 7, was prepared to sing the festive Mexican song with classmates.
"They've worked really hard," Crumpacker-Flerchinger said. "I'm hoping they can just have fun with it."
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.