On the evening of March 25, students in the New Albany-Plain Local School District's English Language Learners program will have an opportunity to share their heritage and culture with faculty and staff members from across the district.

This is the third year the district will hold its New Albany Celebration of Cultures for students in the ELL program, said Tim Mack, ELL coordinator for grades K-12 and an ELL teacher at New Albany Middle School.

The event, which is not open to the public or other students, has expanded since its inception, Mack said. This year, students and their families will represent the countries of Argentina, China, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Japan, Nigeria and Venezuela with food, singing, presentations, dancing and other activities.

This year, Mack said, he is encouraging teachers to attend to gain a perspective of all the cultures present in the district, he said.

"It's eye-opening for me when I go," he said.

Katie Nowak, principal of New Albany Intermediate School, said celebrating and honoring students' diverse backgrounds and cultures is important.

"As a school community, we have so much to gain from celebrating our diversity and learning from one another," she said. "The annual Celebration of Cultures event allows our school staff, students and their families to come together to learn, reflect and grow."

The district has 225 students in the ELL program, Mack said.

The students enrolled in the district represent 26 cultures, including the U.S., and speak 30 languages, Mack said.

Students and their families come to the district for a variety of reasons and from many places, he said.

Some with Somali heritage are coming to New Albany from parts of Columbus, Spanish-speaking students from Venezuela have come from Indiana and some businesses in the area have brought Japanese- and German-speaking students to the district, Mack said.

A job transfer brought Kei Taniguchi, the father of 10-year-old fourth-grader Kae Taniguchi, from Japan to the U.S. in October 2018.

Taniguchi said the New Albany Celebration of Cultures event is a "very good opportunity" to learn about other cultures. He said his neighborhood accepted his family; for example, they have received invitations to holiday parties, he said.

Oher students in the ELL program were born in the U.S. but were raised speaking their parents' native languages.

Heather Teeter, a 13-year-old seventh-grader who was born in Columbus, said Spanish was her first language. Her mother, Giana, is from Guatemala; her father, Robert, is from the U.S. but also speaks Spanish.

Heather said growing up she began picking up English "little by little" from friends; she still speaks Spanish with her mother at home most of the time.

Karan Karra, a 13-year-old eighth-grader who was born in Kansas, grew up speaking Punjabi at home. His parents are from India, he said.

Karan said he began picking up bits of English from TV shows and movies and then learned more in school.

Now, he said, he has forgotten most of the Punjabi he once knew.