Stir-fry dishes, wheat tortillas, kocho and other dishes from around the world fill your senses as you walk into the King Open Extended Day Culture Night event. The students run around, and families gather around to try some dishes or learn something about a region of the world. In the back, the lead teachers make sure the kids are ready to perform and the music is set to play. A group of students take the stage. “I want you back” by the Jackson 5 starts playing. Parents and students swing to the rhythm of “Motown through the ages,” a performance prepared by lead teacher (Name) and her students.

On the surface, Culture night looks like any other school event across the U.S., but a closer look will quickly reveal that there is much more to this night that what meets the eye.

While many of the King Open students belong to multicultural families, and families with rich cultural backgrounds, they don’t often have the chance to explore their culture and understand the role culture plays in their everyday life; especially not at school.

Culture Night is the end of the year event of the King Open Extended Day after-school program. On this day, students get a chance to showcase everything they have learned throughout the year. For the families, this night not only represents an opportunity to spend quality time with their kids, it is a chance to be part of the school and engage with other families in the community. As for the teachers, this night is not only the culmination of their work, but also an opportunity to further help King Open students grow emotionally and help develop their social skills; the main goal behind the King Open Extended Day after-school program.

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The Culture Night event at King Open works as a safe space where conversations about race, ethnicity, immigration, culture, assimilation and discrimination can take place. Teachers get a chance to have in-depth conversations with parents about the issues around culture and cultural identity that affect their kids and their lives. And talking about these issues stops being a thing that only adults do.

“As much as I strive to put things in a language that children can understand, it is really, really great to hear a child use what words they understood to share with their friends, and it makes it so much easier to communicate some more in-depth conversation,”

While the event provides a platform for serious issues to be discussed, the night is a fun-filled night where laughter prevails, and fear of embarrassment is checked at the door as demonstrated by a group of teachers taking the stage to sing and dance, or one teacher trying to hold a hand-microphone while the student is dancing and singing around the stage.

For these kids, and their parents, the experiences lived at Culture night are not just an end of the year event. They are a way to share a piece of what it means to be Chinese, Latino, Haitian, Ethiopian or American with the community they live in. So, mark your calendar for next year’s Culture Night and we’ll see you there.