megan-oby Megan Olsen
Cottonwood High Community School Director

At Cottonwood High School, prom has taken on an increasingly international twist. This past Saturday, 100 students representing countries from around the world, attended the event as a group. Prom was sponsored by the school’s international Colture Club (the name is a play on the school’s mascot, the colt). This is the second year the club has sponsored a prom group, which is one of the most anticipated events of the year.

Last year, student leaders in the club began the tradition of collecting prom dresses and suits for students in the English language learning program who would not otherwise attend because of the cost of the event. The need is high at Cottonwood because the majority of international students are refugees, who fled their native countries with their families because of war, persecution on account of their race, political affiliation, nationality, or religion. Most are still learning the English language and working hard to succeed in school as their families get settled in the United States.

This year, the prom clothing drive was a huge success–more than 70 dresses and 30 shirts and ties were collected, and more than 40 students benefited from clothing from the growing prom closet. These donations came from many different groups in the community, including Cottonwood students, members of the PTSA, the South Salt Lake Police, and employees at the University of Utah.

DSC_0860 The Colture Club’s mission is to create a space where students from all backgrounds feel welcome and to help increase an environment of inclusion and acceptance for all students at the school. Because of this, students were also invited and encouraged to wear formal dress from their home countries. Many students were excited for this opportunity, and large groups donned formal wear from Nepal and Somalia.

Yuri Perez, a math and science teacher in Cottonwood’s English Language Academy and an advisor of the Colture Club, sees many benefits in the group’s participation in prom. Students who participate in the activity, he says, “see themselves as valued by the school and their peers by this extra effort that the school goes through in order to invite them. It’s good experience for them to learn some of the American traditions and incorporate them into themselves. At the same time, many of them felt so good with their own identity that they even went with traditional dressing, and it was okay, and they felt comfortable—that is one of the main benefits.”

DSC_0805In addition to collecting prom clothing, the club provided transportation and corsages. The Cottonwood High administration and United Way of Salt Lake provided buses for 70 students in the group. There were 57 corsages, assembled by volunteers from Cottonwood High School, United Way, and the Hispano Latino Rotary Club! Big thanks go to Best Buds Floral for providing corsage materials at cost and to the Hispano Latino Rotary club for covering the cost of half of the corsages.

DSC_0816Plans are already in the works to continue and expand the project for next school year. The group is still accepting donations of prom clothing, as well as exploring the possibility of hosting a dinner for the group before prom and providing boutineers. Members of the community who would like to support this effort can contact Megan Olsen, Cottonwood’s Community School Director, at for more information.