The mouth-watering aromas of Korean barbeque and pajeon filled the air as students eagerly piled their plates with new lunch items. Members of the Graded Asian Student Association (GASA), in partnership with Graded’s Cafeteria team, created the Korean-inspired menu. They beamed with pride, bearing witness to the result of their effort to affect change. As they took their first bites, students were sent on a culinary journey to the home country of approximately 10% of Graded’s student population.
Fifteen high school club members compose GASA—each committed to promoting Asia's rich and diverse cultures at Graded and instilling a sense of belonging among students. The club was launched in January 2022 under the leadership of senior Jaehee K. and the guidance of faculty advisors Connie Hur and Steve Markey. Grade 4 Teacher Connie Hur is from South Korea, and like many of Graded’s students, she is a third culture kid who grew up attending various international schools around the world. She explains that “many of our international Asian students are living in a place that is almost halfway across the globe from their homes, in an environment, climate, and culture so different from theirs. I know how important it was and is to have a space inside your school where you can freely talk, learn, promote, and stay connected to your own culture. Most importantly, with a sense of pride.”
While Graded’s Asian population predominantly hails from South Korea, club members are eager to learn about a variety of Asian cultures. This year, they adorned the school with colorful, handcrafted lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Lunar Festival, visited São Paulo's Japanese Immigration Museum, and hosted a ramen party. GASA welcomes students of all backgrounds to learn about and celebrate the beauty of Asian cultures. Senior club leader Jaehee K. says that GASA is “for anyone interested in learning more about other cultures or talking about cultural awareness in a safe space.”
GASA members were appreciative that a Korean BBQ-inspired lunch already existed at Graded. However, they identified an opportunity to present Korean culture more authentically. Students hoped to share with the community a more accurate representation of their cuisine with the community that would educate others about their food.
Club members wasted no time in getting started. They wrote a letter to Superintendent Richard Boerner outlining their project goals and reasoning. Mr. Boerner, who lived in South Korea for several years before arriving at Graded, was eager to learn more and asked to attend one of their club meetings. "I was impressed by the thoughtful and comprehensive proposal GASA Club members submitted and inspired by their passion for teaching the Graded community about Korean culture," Mr. Boerner recalled.
With the stamp of approval from Graded’s superintendent, the group collaborated with Camila Germano, Graded’s nutritionist, to develop a scalable menu, true to the flavors of Korea, that would meet the school’s nutritional guidelines. Together, they brainstormed ideas, and students provided the names of their favorite Korean restaurants to the Cafeteria staff for inspiration. GASA members are thrilled to see their initiative come to fruition and a menu placed into regular rotation.
“I felt a deep sense of pride in the club’s efforts to make the new Korean BBQ day a reality,” Jaehee expressed as she joined her friends and GASA club members for the meal. “Not only did I feel satisfied that our club made a real change at the school," she added, "but I felt like my culture was recognized and validated.” In the end, Korean BBQ is more than just a lunch menu. It is a celebration of culture, a demonstration of unity, and an example of the positive impact that a motivated student club can have on the Graded community.