All-School Culture Night
By Kristy Nerstheimer
Diversity within our schools continues to increase in public schools nationwide. 1 in 4 school children are listed as first or second-generation immigrant in the US and 350 languages are spoken in homes across our nation. It is so important to teach tolerance, empathy, and acceptance to prepare students for a diverse world. An excellent way to do this is to expose your students to a variety of cultures. This year I spearheaded our first ever Culture Night. Our school population includes many different cultures, and we really wanted to build community and appreciation with our families.
I first reached out to the PTA president and the Spanish PTA president who worked closely with me for the success of the evening. The PTA organized a sign-up genius which allowed students/families to share a special aspect or food from their culture. Families brought many different kinds of foods to share and most items were labeled with their country of origin. Some students signed up to share a special talent. One student and family member blew the shofar which is a ram’s horn blown in Israel and within the Jewish faith during important occasions such as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Another student did an Asian dance with chopsticks. Two families also set up tables with artifacts and information about Malaysia and Kenya.
The music teacher created a wonderful music program including songs from Africa, Mexico, Israel, and the USA. The art teacher worked with grade levels to create a wide variety of amazing artwork to display as well as making welcome banners in several different languages. The librarian conducted the book fair with the theme: “Open a Book, Discover the World.” Families were able to purchase books to learn about other cultures as well as support the school. Each grade level also contributed to the event. Primary grades made self-portraits and indicated the country in which their families came. Some of the upper grades made travel brochures about different countries along with a video highlighting important destinations. Fifth grade created a display of Native American tribes complete with constructed homes and traditional food to share. Local high school students came and taught students how to play Chinese jump rope. We also had an interactive wall map where families could label their country of origin. Over 50 countries were represented that night.
Overall, it was a massive success. It was a true collaboration between parents and teachers. The PTA president said it was one of the most successful family events our school has ever had. The students were absolutely thrilled to be involved with the event and the days leading up to it. Excitement truly filled the hallways as the night approached. Many students came dressed in the traditional clothing of their culture. Throughout the entire building, crowds of families enjoyed musical entertainment in the gym, the book fair in the library, and food/games/displays in the Multi-Purpose Room. At one point, I honestly choked up as I looked around to see this beautiful and diverse community come together for an evening of celebration.
A survey was sent out to get feedback from the event. Moving forward, everyone would like to see this happen again next year. Both of the PTA presidents would like to be involved with the event as well. Students were engaged throughout the entire process, from preparing for their class’s exhibit to the music program to the tasting of food from other countries. This experience allowed students to build empathy and tolerance as well as show pride in their own culture. Furthermore, I believe sharing and celebrating in this manner truly strengthened our school community.
I love this quote by an unknown author: “the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.” Teaching students to appreciate different cultures fosters a sense of empathy and understanding. This can lead to our students becoming more open-minded to the differences around them. One of our jobs as educators is to prepare our students to be successful and productive members of society. By equipping students with such soft skills as acceptance, appreciation, and love, they will be able to enter the workplace with a well-rounded attitude and view of the world. This just might make the world a little kinder, gentler, and a little more beautiful.