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59-flag salute: Diversity rules at Federal Way High School

By MARGO HORNER, The Mirror

Walking into the cafeteria at Federal Way High School is a lesson in world geography.

There are 59 flags hanging in Federal Way’s cafeteria, representing the countries where the diverse student population comes from. Federal Way High School is the most culturally diverse high school in the district.

In fact, Federal Way has one of the most diverse school districts in King County. It ranks fifth in the county in the number of non-Caucasian students with 54 percent, according to data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Seattle, Renton, Highline and Tukwila are the top four King County districts for diversity. Tukwila has 75 percent non-Caucasian students in their district.

School administrators began hanging the flags at Federal Way High School in 2003. Since then, the number has grown at a rate of about 10 flags each year. Students who don’t see their flag hanging often approach a teacher or staff member and ask to have their flag displayed on campus, said principal Lisa Griebel.

“We can learn about the other countries and we have diversity here in the school. We have many different cultures,” said sophomore Natalia Garzon, who requested this year that the school hang a flag from Columbia, her home country.

“I feel good because it’s the pride of my country,” Garzon said.

New flags ordered this year include those from Norway, Nepal, Palau, the Czech Republic, Venezuela, Guyana and Columbia.

“We embrace these changes as a positive thing. We are excited to become a diverse school,” Griebel said.

Until the beginning of this school year, the flags hung from the ceiling rafters throughout the cafeteria.

“We had students who even chose their lunch table to be underneath the flag that was from their country,” Griebel said.

Ben Camarero, a senior who began attending Federal Way last year, said he remembers finding his flag during lunch on his first day of school.

“I noticed the flag and there was a bunch of Mexicans there, so I just started talking to them,” said Camarero, who is from Mexico.

An October inspection by the fire marshal led to the flags being deemed a fire hazard and taken down. They were hanging to close to the sprinklers, Griebel said.

Now the flags hang diagonally from poles lined up on the cafeteria walls.

Meenakshi Bansal said she was proud of her country when she saw her flag from India hanging. It has also helped her find friends at school who share her Indian heritage.

“I think it was awesome,” Bansal said. “When you come, it’s a little like you’re at home.”

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Diverse school districts by the numbers

Tukwila, 74.75 percent non-Caucasian

Highline, 64.79 percent non-Caucasian

Renton, 62.22 percent non-Caucasian

Seattle, 57.2 percent non-Caucasian

Federal Way, 54.11 percent non-Caucasian

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