Students participate in SMS Culture Night


Students, parents and faculty filling the hallways of Seymour Middle School on Thursday evening were given the opportunity to travel the globe and visit a couple of places closer to home.

The school’s third annual Culture Night featured displays from 11 other countries along with separate displays focusing on Native Americans and culture in southern Indiana.

The event allows students and their families to learn about other cultures and celebrate diversity.

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Cultures were selected by each education team at the school, and teachers put together the displays. Some used help from their students.

Displays included information about each country, traditional food, games and more.

As they began their travels, students received “passports” to compile facts and notes about each country. They also received a sticker at each stop. The passports were turned in after they completed their trip and answered all of the questions for a chance at prizes.

Toward the end of the evening, the school’s choir sang several songs.

J.B. Royer, the school’s principal, organized the event his first year at the school. While learning about other countries is the goal, he also wants to help students and their families from other countries feel welcome.

“I’ve seen kids come into this building who had just gotten to this country, 12 years old, and I’ve seen the fear in their eyes,” he said, pointing out it can be intimidating for children to leave their home country and start at a new school. “I want to make them to feel as welcome as any kid that grew up right here in Jackson County as well as their families because they should feel welcome when they come into Seymour Middle School.”

The night helps students become familiar with backgrounds of some of their classmates and enlighten them about the cultures of other countries.

“We try to bring people in and open their eyes to different cultures and even different cultures we have here,” he said.

About 27 percent of the school’s nearly 660 students speak English as a second language, he said.

“The whole gist of it is to get everybody together, celebrate diversity and have a good time,” Royer said.

The school has students from a variety of countries, including Japan, India, Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and more.

“It’s pretty diverse here,” Royer said.

Artema Barnard, an eighth-grader at the school, put together a display featuring Native American culture and history. With the help of her mother Debra Able, Artema put together the display after requesting space from Royer.

She is partially Native American and said her family tree includes Pocahontas and Nancy Kingfisher. She said her research into Kingfisher revealed she was one of the first Native Americans to sign treaties with settlers.

“She did a lot of stuff the average woman wouldn’t do then,” she said during a break from sharing Native American history at her display, which included information about various tribes, artworks, jewelry, tools Native Americans used, arrowheads and authentic Eskimo moccasins.

One of the tools on the display was two rocks that were used to grind corn for cornmeal.

“They didn’t have cornmeal and had to make their own with these rocks,” she said. “It was a woman’s job to make it.”

Barnard said she wanted to bring to light Native American culture because she thinks sometimes it is overlooked as people learn about other countries and cultures.

“I think a lot of people don’t give as much attention to Native Americans, and they kind of push them aside and look at other cultures,” she said. “So I wanted to share what I know with my classmates, and I want people to understand that Native Americans didn’t have the things we have now and really couldn’t go to a store and had to survive on what they had.”

The opportunity to share what she knows and also learn about other cultures with her classmates was fulfilling.

“I think it’s great because when people learn about other cultures, it opens the mind,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity because kids can come here and learn more about other cultures that they haven’t experienced.”

Agriculture teacher Micah Wallace helped create the Germany display with help from the school’s FFA students. She said she enjoys Culture Night because it brings students together to learn about other countries and even countries where their classmates are from.

“I think it brings so much camaraderie to this school by having all the students here,” she said while serving gummy bears.

The display included German sausage and sauerkraut.

“It’s a good opportunity for them,” Wallace said.

While the event aims to teach students and parents about a variety of cultures, it also shows the school’s commitment to celebrating the student body’s diversity.

“We value their background, we value their culture and we value everything they bring to the table here,” Wallace said. “It’s a night where we get to thank everyone for being part of our school and our community.”

Royer grew up in Columbus and said he always enjoyed the Ethnic Expo the city put on and wanted to do something similar at the school.

“The faculty are amazing because they’ve taken off with it, and it’s the easiest job I have,” he said. “It exploded the first year and has grown since.”

Culture Night may be one evening at the school, but the school is reminded of its diversity each day, Royer said. If anyone at the school needs a reminder, they should just look at the lunch menu.

“We go through some items that you wouldn’t think we would and have so many different things on our salad bar because the students request it,” he said.

Royer said students unfamiliar with the foods have even tried them and liked them.

One being jicama, a traditional Mexican root vegetable that is similar to a sweet potato, he said.

“I think our diversity here drives our students to try new things and broaden them,” he said.

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