The Marshallese community in Spokane County celebrated the scholastic and athletic achievements of middle school and high school students who can trace their origins to the Marshall Islands.
The celebration was called Manit (culture) Day and was hosted at Rogers High School on Saturday. This is the third year of the program, said Spokane Public Schools Gear Up liaison Ryan Douse. Douse works with low-income students in the district and was working at Shaw Middle School when Manit Day came into being.
“We were looking to connect with the Marshallese community,” he said.
A large and growing number of people have come to Spokane from the Marshall Islands, which is considered a United States associated state. An advisory committee was formed and they talked about their desire to recognize the academic achievements of their students. A community member suggested the idea of a Manit Day celebration. The first one was held at Shaw Middle School before it moved to Rogers High School last year.
The first celebration attracted about 100 students and a few hundred family members. This year well over a thousand came. “Each year we’ve done it it’s grown,” Douse said. “This year we’re thinking we’re going to recognize 250.”
Students have to earn a 2.5 grade point average or above in order to receive recognition. In previous years students who earned above a 2.0 GPA were honored.
“We saw that more students were achieving a high academic level,” Douse said. “We wanted to raise the bar.”
The day started with basketball and volleyball tournaments. The afternoon included a beauty pageant with male and female contestants wearing traditional Marshallese clothing as well as dancing.
Students from Rogers, North Central, Lewis and Clark, Ferris, East Valley, Central Valley, University, Cheney and Mt. Spokane high schools were recognized. Students from each high school wore matching T-shirts or dresses and were announced as they entered the gym to the shouts and applause of family and community members.
A group of male students performed a Roro, a traditional Marshallese chant, dancing across the gym floor as they bellowed the chant. Several Marshallese students who have gone on to college also came to speak, offering encouragement to the current students.
Several teachers and administrators attended the event to show support for the students. Dawn Gering is a college prep adviser at Rogers who works for the College Success Foundation. She said she first heard about Manit Day last year from one of her students who was Marshallese.
“I remember her talking about it and what a big deal it is for them,” she said.
This year she advises several Marshallese students and decided to come to the event. “The more I got to know them and spend time with them I was really interested to learn about the Marshallese culture,” she said. “I also wanted to support the students I work with.”
This year a group of teens representing several different schools planned the event. “The students, especially this year, have been the driver behind getting everything set up,” Dousy said.
Lewis and Clark High School student Toby Katejukjuk said the last several months have been stressful ones. “Before the adults ran it,” he said. “Now the high schoolers are doing it.”
The goal of the event is to remind everyone about their Manit, or culture, Katejukjuk said. “They’re forgetting our ways,” he said. “This is one way to remind them.”
Rogers student Josh Malolo said Marshallese students don’t always fit in with the crowd. “They don’t understand why we do things a certain way,” he said. “We’re really tight. We’re like family.”
Part of that is the different expectations of boys and girls in the Marshallese culture. Girls are expected to focus more in the home while boys are encouraged to get careers.
“There’s different expectations we have to follow,” said Lewis and Clark student Wilma Bokmej.
Though the process was a stressful one, the students appeared happy to see everything happening as planned.
“It’s a special thing to see all of us come together from the different schools,” Malolo said.
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