Middle-schoolers explore different cultures

It wasn’t long ago when Rhea Ann Dacayo was a child playing with rocks in the Philippines a half-world away from Seymour Middle School.

Fast forward a couple of years later, and the seventh-grader is presenting information about her country of origin during the second Seymour Middle School Culture Night.

The event, conducted Thursday evening at Seymour Middle School, celebrates diversity within the school and gives students and families an opportunity to learn about different cultures throughout the world. The event featured booths with information, games and food from 18 different countries.

Principal J.B. Royer said a story like Dacayo’s helps build a strong foundation of diversity within the school. Royer said 96 of 653 students at the middle school are from or have parents from a different country.

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“I’m not 100 percent sure about this, but I think our school represents about 18 or 19 different countries alone,” he said. “It’s about a sixth of our population.”

For Dacayo, the evening was an opportunity to share information about where she was born and food from her home country with her peers.

“I moved here December 21, 2014,” she said while arranging egg rolls. “I enjoy telling people about how we lived in the Philippines and my simple life there.”

Dacayo shared a story of the differences of growing up in the two countries. While most of her current friends were busy playing with the latest electronics, she  resorted to playing with whatever she could find.

“It’s a little bit of a different world,” she said. “I learned that it was OK to play with rocks and paper and not much technology.”

Dacayo’s parents helped her prepare traditional Philippine egg rolls, which contained pork, bell pepper, carrots and a little salt and pepper.

Culture Night is organized by the school’s committee of involvement.

Kathy Beavers, a seventh-grade science teacher and a member of the committee, helped organize the event.

“It’s a fun, festive way to get people to come into the building, and it’s a way for us to share about all of the different cultures we have here in our building,” she said.

Most of the booths were set up by teachers, and students were given a “passport” at the entrance of the school. Each student received a stamp from the different “countries” they visited. The passport also had questions for students to answer about each country.

“The passport opens their minds to the different cultures that are here tonight,” Beavers said. “They may not know that certain countries are known for something in particular, like the foods, and they don’t realize where it originated.”

Beavers said it is important for students to understand cultures throughout the world to gain an understanding of the differences between people.

“It really broadens their minds, and it allows for them to see our world as global and much more different than when we were growing up,” she said. “I think this event is going to open their eyes and give them a perspective of things that they have never even thought of before or knew existed.”

Beavers said she thought the event was a success and that the different offerings of each booth made it more interesting.

“I love the creativity of every booth,” she said. “Every booth is different, and it’s amazing with the games, artwork and food.”

Beavers said the event also helps create a welcoming environment at the school for parents, who were invited to walk through all of the booths with the students to complete the passport together.

She said it was a good opportunity for parents to spend time with their kids at school during a time when relationships often can be strained as students enter their teenage years.

Royer agreed and said parent involvement makes the event better.

“We’re one big family,” he said. “The only way our school is going to succeed is if we work together. Middle school is a (difficult) age, and this sort of forces them to do a little something together here.”

Rhiannon Castetter brought her son, Sam, a seventh-grader, to the event and said he was looking forward to the day as soon as it started.

“As soon as he woke up this morning, he reminded me of this,” she said. “I love seeing the teachers out and all of the kids and how they’re learning about each other.”

Castetter said she thought it was important that youth learn about different cultures because it gives students a chance to expand their knowledge of the world.

“I think it’s so important, especially nowadays, that you diversify yourself and learn to be more accepting of everyone around you and know that just because they’re not like you that that’s OK,” she said.