Germantown, Tennessee--September 5, 2018--In a third grade classroom, Yui Koriyama presents information about her Japanese culture to her peers during a social studies lesson. “Obviously, Germantown, Tennessee and the United States are great, but showing students the traditions and uniqueness of other cultures is just as important. Interacting with students who represent different parts of the world teaches other students that we have differences and, more importantly, many similarities,” said her third grade teacher Kelcey Lewis.
At Farmington Elementary School, where Yui attends, there are about 60 students in the English Language Learners Program (ELL). Some come to the school speaking no English at all, but at Farmington—whose exit rate for the program is one of the highest in the state—they are viewed as a vital part of the school culture.
“It always surprises teachers to learn that we have over 27 different languages spoken on our campus alone,” said ELL teacher Leslie Parker. She named some of the languages spoken by her students which range from Spanish to Zumi, a language native to Nepal. According to Parker, Farmington is one of the most diverse schools she’s ever worked in. “What makes Farmington really unique though, is that the teachers really embrace our ELL students,” she said.
“In the classrooms, that acceptance by the teachers trickles down to the other students, who also love to help their new friends from other places,” said Parker. “Also, it’s not only the girls who want to help, but the boys as well,” she said. And, this desire to connect doesn’t end in the classroom. Parker shared that at Farmington her students are regularly invited to after school events with their new friends—like birthday parties and sporting events. This accepting culture has attracted the attention of many international families who have moved into the Memphis Area for jobs in the transportation or medical research science fields. Parker has even given tours to representatives from international companies that are looking to relocate to the area and are asked to report back about education for the children of their employees.
Farmington annually hosts events like the Falcons Multi-Culti Festival where its international students (some of which may not require ELL services) have a chance to gather and share their culture with other students and community members. The festival includes food tasting, crafts and performances by the students and their families. Leading up to the festival, the school also hosts a multi-cultural parade in which students represent their own cultures by traditional dress and parade floats made out of wagons.
Moreover, Parker is always excited to see some of her students’ cultural backgrounds represented through literature and other classwork. Like Yui Koriyama in Ms. Lewis’ third grade classroom, students sharing their culture is a regular occurrence at the school. The teachers enjoy having these students because, as Lewis puts it, “In 3rd grade, we learn about the world's seven continents, along with the various cultures. Having international students share authentic details of countries in which they were born, brings the reality of those places to the classroom”.