With every punch of his passport, Cameron Alcorn discovered a new country and culture from around the globe.
Instead of the U.S. government issuing his passport, Seymour-Jackson Elementary School gave him a slip of paper with countries to visit.
And instead of actually traveling the world, the 6-year-old kindergartner walked through the school’s cafeteria to sample foods, see displays and learn about a variety of countries as part of the school’s annual Culture Night.
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Cameron, joined by his mother, Kristy Boyd, and aunt, Sherlonda Woods, walked through each booth with curiosity that often comes with learning something new about the world.
“I like that he will know where other people come from,” Boyd said as the three finished up their stop at the booth on Italy. “I like that he will know the different foods they eat and a little history about each one.”
Cameron’s favorite part was that of a typical kindergartner.
“The coloring,” Boyd said, as Cameron spent all of the time he could coloring pages each booth offered that featured details about each country. “He has been coloring for the last 20 minutes, and he loved the corn dogs at the United States booth.”
Boyd said she enjoyed the event, too.
“I’ve enjoyed the food and learning about all the different cultures here,” she said. “I liked seeing my son learn all about people around the world.”
Boyd said it was special to spend the evening learning about the countries with her son and sister, and that’s what Principal Justin Brown said is one of the school’s objectives when it hosts the event each year.
While learning and expanding horizons is the central theme, spending time with family throughout the evening and learning together is equally important, he said.
“Parent involvement is one of the most important things we can do to help student achievement,” he said. “The more we can get parents involved, the better the students will do here in school, and we really like the family atmosphere in our school, and hopefully, we can bring our families together to enjoy the night. You see a lot of smiles here.”
Brown said the event also creates an opportunity for parents and teachers to interact in a different way outside of the normal routine of the school year.
“We’re able to take a step back from the day-to-day grind and teaching, and the students get to take time from that, and it creates the chance for them to see us differently in this laid-back way,” he said.
The event is popular and sees a significant amount of participation from families of students and teachers. It has grown so much, the school has to offer two sessions for families to participate.
“We’ve had to take kindergarten through second grade in the first hour, and then third grade through fifth in the second,” Brown said.
The school is the largest in the corporation with an enrollment of nearly 700 and with a staff of around 100, so offering two sessions is necessary, he said.
“It’s one of the events we take a lot of pride in and one of our most fun events of the year and really celebrates our diversity not only in the United States, but also here at Jackson Elementary,” he said.
Brown said at one point, the school had eight different countries of origin and was able to name multiple countries from where students originate.
To gather information and ideas for each country’s booth, each grade level was assigned a country and participated in research about culture, history and food and developing a display for the evening.
Italy’s booth featured meatballs and Italian ice, a traditional Italian dessert similar to ice cream. The booth also had photographs, history and teachers dressed in Italian chef’s clothing. Outdoor furniture that might be seen outside a cafe in the country was included, too.
“They develop the activity and food to serve the night,” Brown said. “A lot of the kids will participate in an activity for their country each week to help and get ideas. A lot of the decorations are created by the students themselves.”
Experiencing different cultures and diversity is something positive for students because it brings them a level of understanding and broadens the way they think, Brown said.
“Any time you can learn from others and from other cultures, it just gives you better awareness of what’s out there,” he said. “You know what’s out there to enjoy, what’s out there to learn from other people, and our students are the ones that do that in their studies every day leading up to Culture Night, and they really enjoy coming in here and celebrating a trip around the world.”