A bit of the world was brought to Pataskala last Friday, January 20 thanks to the students at Licking Heights Local Schools. Across the district, students and staff celebrated Culture Day.
Eighth grade students Deepshika Nepal and Dikshya Adhikari, who coordinated Culture Day at Central Intermediate and the middle school last year, served as the event’s leaders along with the middle school Diversity Council.
Nepal, President of the Diversity Council, and Adhikari, Vice President of the Diversity Council, said their goal was giving students a space to proudly express and celebrate their culture.
“Everyone should feel welcome and appreciated no matter where they come from,” Nepal said. “I hope people understand it’s ok to have different backgrounds, especially younger kids at the elementary school. I don’t want people to grow up feeling embarrassed because they don’t fit in.”
Both students moved to the United States in elementary school and personally experienced the difficulties of acclimating to a new environment–including learning a new language. Moving forward, they want to focus on the immigrant experience in cultural celebrations.
“Sometimes I see people feel ashamed of their culture, and I don’t want it to be like that,” Adhikari says. “A lot of kids our age and younger forget their culture and don’t know how to speak their language. If the district leads by example, kids will follow and understand.”
Both Nepal and Adhikari say it’s important to talk about celebrating culture, but action is what matters. To execute their vision for a district-wide Culture Day, they worked closely with Lana Whaley, 7th grade social studies teacher and advisor to the Diversity Council.
Whaley believes the diversity of Licking Heights provides students the opportunity to learn from their peers every day. Forty-seven different languages are spoken across the district, and nearly half the population is students of color.
“Licking Heights is a great miniature version of the diverse world students are going into after graduation,” she says.
Whaley says that making sure all students feel included and heard matters most to her, and she wants events like Culture Day to be student-led as much as possible.
“As a teacher, if a student doesn’t feel like they have a voice, that is a big problem to me. I want students to find a voice and use that to empower not just themselves, but others, too,” she says. “How do we make people feel included and be inclusive?”
All six schools and the preschool participated in Culture Day–just like Nepal and Adhikari hoped. Kindergarten and preschool students decorated their hallways, read books about cultural celebrations, listened to podcasts about folktales and drew pictures of their favorite holidays.
At West Elementary, staff members invited the families of their students to come share about their culture and holidays. Nearly 35% of South Elementary students wore their traditional cultural attire. Inspired by Culture Day and the work of the middle school, South students recently formed their own Diversity Council to promote cultural awareness and celebration.
The district is currently planning for the Multicultural Fair on May 12, 2023. If you are a local food vendor interested in participating in this event, please contact Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Supervisor, Mr. Corey Stroud, at [email protected].