Superintendent Ronald Tucker had a quick answer when asked to describe the Bayless School District.
“We are a 21st-century melting pot,” Tucker said.
For that reason, the district will host its first Multicultural Folklore Festival Friday.
“We wanted to do something to celebrate our diversity,” teacher and co-coordinator Melinda Brown said. “It’s also a way to celebrate our community. We’ve had some art festivals in the past and it kind of descended from them.”
The free festival will run from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Bayless High School, 4532 Weber Road. It will be presented by the Bayless Fine Arts Council, Culinary Arts Council, Diversity Club and the Metro South Arts Festival. These clubs will present folk tales, food and music from the different cultures.
Like the Affton, Hancock Place and Mehlville school districts, Bayless has seen an influx of immigrant families during the past decade.
With the Bayless district, 48 percent of the 1,550 students are from immigrant or refugee families, Tucker said.
“We have kids speaking 19 different languages and are in our English language programs,” he said. “These students are part of our community. Some are in the National Honor Society, others play sports. I think it makes Bayless special.”
Some of the students’ home countries include Bosnia, Vietnam, Mexico, Iraq, Albania and Russia.
“We are proud of how we’ve been able to help the students with our language programs,” Brown said. “Our social workers have reached out to them.”
The immigrant families have helped settle the area and maintain the district’s student population, she said.
“Without them, the Bayless district’s population would be older,” Brown said.
In 1998, the immigrant influx began with Bosnians fleeing the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. They settled in south St. Louis, then began to move to South County, Tucker said.
For those families, 2012 also has a special meaning. It is the 20th anniversary of the conflict that brought thousands to the United States.
Bosnian students make up 40 percent of the student population.
The Bayless boys soccer team, made up mostly of Bosnian students, finished third in the Class 1 Missouri high school tournament and had a 21-8 record. This was the first time in almost 40 years any Bayless team finished in the Final Four of any state high school postseason sports tournament.
Junior Irhad Sehovic, 17, played on the team as a striker.
“It was an amazing season,” he said. “We did really well. Most of the team was Bosnian with only two (born in) America.”
Many of the Bosnian students like living in the Bayless district.
“It’s almost like a little Bosnia,” he said. “I went back to Bosnia during the summer, and people there knew about St. Louis.”
St. Louis has the second-largest Bosnian population in the United States, behind only Chicago.