Wayne Township school’s International Festival celebrates newcomer students and diversity

The Lynhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center in Wayne Township schools is holding an International Festival to celebrate its diverse student body.

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An Indianapolis middle school is celebrating its growing population of newcomer students with its 11th annual International Festival.

Like other schools throughout Indiana, the Lynhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center in Wayne Township schools has seen a rise in the number of immigrant students it serves this year. Indiana has welcomed over 7,000 new immigrant students this year — a jump from the 5,000 students who arrived last year.

The school’s International Festival highlights the countries that these students are from while introducing all students to international cultures. For many students, Wayne schools is their first home district since coming to the U.S., and it’s important to make them feel welcome, said Alesha McCall, a Language Assistance Program (LAP) teacher who works with English learner students and is running the festival this year.

“We have grown in our newcomer population and we need to celebrate that,” said McCall.

The May 15 festival, open to the public, is part fun and games for students, and part information and resources for their families. Tickets are $2 per person or $5 per family.

Students compete in a soccer tournament and play chess and Azul, a board game based on Portuguese tiles. And community groups perform Bollywood dancing, salsa dancing, and line dancing.

The rise in newcomer students is reflected in another trend. This year, just over one quarter of the school’s students are English learners — up from around 23% last school year and around 16% in 2021-2022, according to Indiana Department of Education data. In Wayne schools overall, around 24% of students are English learners this year, up from 21% last year.

Statewide, immigrant students make up around 1% of all Indiana students, and that number has basically remained constant since 2020, according to education department data.

In her first year as a LAP teacher in 2021-22, McCall said she had fewer than 10 English learner students who tested at the lowest level of English proficiency. This year, she has more than 30, she said.

The festival is also evolving. This year, a seventh grade student approached McCall about creating and operating a booth about Haiti in order to represent her home country. It might be the festival’s first time with a booth dedicated to Haiti, McCall said.

“The purpose is to bring our community together and celebrate diversity,” McCall said.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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