Celebrating Your School’s Cultural Diversity
You can take a page out of Walt Disney Elementary in Mishawaka, Indiana’s playbook if you want to know how to put on a successful Culture Night at your school. This school has hosted a Culture Night every May for the past 16 years to draw attention to the richness of their wonderfully diverse community. “We try to add a new element every year as our school and the event evolve,” says Robi Davidson, the faculty coordinator and music teacher who oversees the event. “This is the event at our school that makes me most proud to be a teacher at Walt Disney.”
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“It brings our learning community together,” says Ryan Towner, assistant principal at the school. “At Disney, we communicate in 23 different languages. We have a large number of families who live in nearby apartments and who don’t always have opportunities to interact with one another outside of school. Our school community, on the other hand, shows up for Culture Night. It’s an opportunity to come together as a community, united by our pride in our children, and to celebrate all of the benefits and richness that come from living in such a diverse community.”
The extraordinary celebration of cultural diversity that has taken place at the school did not happen overnight. Here are a few of the lessons that the community has gained from its experiences.
1. Let your ELLs shine!
During Culture Night, Disney’s staff makes a concerted effort to ensure that their English-language learners are treated as if they are experts in their field. Last year, the ESL specialist conducted interviews with the school’s English language learners and produced a video that was shown on a loop throughout the evening. English language learners (ELLs) demonstrated how to say hello and count to ten in their native languages, as well as how school is conducted in their home countries.
2. Make use of available district resources.
A feature of almost every Culture Night is food, but this one goes a step further by inviting the district’s food services to join in on the celebrations. During the week leading up to the event, the cafeteria will be serving specially designed international lunches to attendees. It’s yet another way to remind students and parents that Culture Night is not an event to be missed.
3. Demonstrate what students have learned.
Almost every regional display includes contributions from every grade level. Parents appreciate the fact that they will have the opportunity to see a variety of students work throughout the building, which is a major selling point for the school.
4. Make it multidisciplinary.
Regional displays make it clear that teachers use a highly cross-curricular approach to creating the artifacts that they share with their students. Examples of learning in art, music, social studies, language arts, and mathematics have been displayed in the exhibits. Take, for example, this lesson plan for teaching geometry through Islamic art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which can be found here.
5. Incorporate live performances into your program.
One of the reasons that Disney Elementary’s Culture Night is so popular is that there is always something new and exciting to do and see. Irish dancers, Jamaican drummers, and other performers have previously been invited to provide entertainment for the audience.
6. Make use of the resources available in the community.
Families from the community are recruited to host the food and craft tables at the school. A member of the cafeteria staff sets up the tables and chairs, and the rest is up to the families, who cook, decorate, and educate their children.
7. Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more!
Teachers and administrators are well aware that they must communicate with students in a variety of ways. Flyers are sent home with students, an ESL specialist explains the event to families who speak a variety of languages, reminders are sent home with the students, and phone calls are placed. One particularly innovative communication effort is a series of morning announcements made by students, which is particularly effective. Fourth-grade students create one-minute morning announcements based on their country report projects for their respective classes. On each morning during the weeks leading up to Culture Night, the entire school is treated to a brief presentation about one of the many countries that will be represented at the event.
8. Assign a mission to each participant.
Students are given a passport when they arrive at the school for Culture Night, which they can fill out and turn in to be entered into a prize drawing. After completing an activity in each region, they receive a stamp on their passport. Attempting new things and touring all of the regional displays will be encouraged as a result of this initiative. See the template for a passport below.
A passport template to complete in preparation for Culture Night.
Clare Roach is the photographer who captured this image (Click image to download a PDF template)
9. Remember to celebrate the cultures of the United States as well.
It is very easy for children to fall into the trap of believing that culture is only found in people from countries other than the United States. Culture Nights provide an excellent opportunity to emphasize that we all come from different backgrounds. Disney Elementary addresses this issue during its Culture Night by ensuring that the United States of America is a prominent region. Class projects from the 50 States Projects are compiled into a large exhibition by the fifth-grade students. For this project, each student selects a state to research and designs a poster presentation and float to promote that state’s culture. As part of the evening’s activities, the winners are announced and ribbons are distributed.
10. Appoint a faculty coordinator to oversee the process.
Parent participation is essential for a successful Culture Night. Faculty support, on the other hand, is just as, if not more, important. The faculty at this school discovered that appointing a teacher or staff member to assist with event coordination has improved communication and increased school-wide support for the event.
One of the most compelling reasons for all of us to organize a multicultural celebration at our schools is the opportunity it provides for students, teachers, and families to come face to face in celebration of the unique contributions that each of us makes to society. While having fun, it is also an opportunity to strengthen the academic connections between students’ knowledge, prior experiences, and ways of viewing the world, among other things. Take a page from Walt Disney Elementary’s book and organize a Culture Night at your school.