Building Community & Celebrating Cultures

Sheridan Hills Elementary students learn during a field trip to Wood Lake Nature Center

For more than 15 years, students at Sheridan Hills Elementary have had the opportunity to connect with peers who share similar cultural backgrounds. In a time when children often felt isolated because English was not their native language or they looked different than everyone else, having a dedicated space to relax and have fun with other students who have shared experiences was—and is—priceless. 

English Language Teachers Lori Voigt and Anne Hillman (retired) first started the groups in the mid 2000s. They talked about creating opportunities for students to connect across grades or classrooms with others who speak the same language or are from the same countries. They talked with students about the idea and students were very excited. Early culture groups included many different countries. 

“One of the goals for the culture groups is to provide students with an opportunity to feel proud of their culture and to find others who speak their language,” explained Ann Rummel, another English Language Teacher at Sheridan. “With 15-25 different native languages in any given year, students don’t always know everyone in the school who shares their background, so these cross-class, cross-grade groups give them a chance to meet each other and make friends.”

“Because of these groups, students feel more connected to their culture,” adds Lori Voigt. “The groups also reinforce the message that being bilingual is a gift and encourage them to keep using their first language. I have seen students develop such pride as a result of these groups.”

Students are invited to bring something to share from their culture—special clothing, pictures, money and flags are the most common. Over the years, the groups vary depending on the student body. Specific groups are larger or smaller and new groups are added. Some groups have started meeting more frequently, either during lunch or after school.

The groups have been scaled back during the pandemic. However, everyone hopes to be able to fully implement them again someday soon. Culture groups at Sheridan Hills will continue to connect and support students—and families—for many years to come.

Students in the Vietnamese culture group
Students in the Somali culture group
Students in the fifth grade Mexico culture group
Students in the fourth grade Mexico culture group
Students in the third grade Mexico culture group
Students in the India-Nepal-Tibet culture group
Students in the China-Laos-Philippines culture group
Students in the Arabic-Kurdish culture group
Students in the Algeria-Togo-Gambia-Ethiopa culture group

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Christina Gonzalez

Director of Student Support Services, Christina Gonzalez, has been awarded the Park Nicollet Foundation 2022 Community Service Award for her leadership, dedication and commitment to supporting students and families.

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