Carrie Ricker Elementary School Integrates Culture into the Curriculum

Group of students together smiling

As a new addition to the community and to the school, Principal Dani Finn noticed that the students at Carrie Ricker Elementary were curious about her and her background. Being a native of the Hawaiian Islands, she was eager to share her culture and experiences outside of Maine with the students, and has found that they were just as eager to learn.

Principal Finn has since begun a “Cultural Competencies Series” which brings speakers with a wide variety of cultural backgrounds to the school to talk with students about where they are from and how that is both similar and different from the traditions found here in Maine and in the United States.

Drawing from the diverse pool of backgrounds of the various people who live right here in Maine, in the communities surrounding the Litchfield area and beyond, Principal Finn is able to welcome many folks to her school, presenting new and rich learning opportunities to the students.

Hawo Abdille, Lewiston Public Schools English Language Learner (ELL) Intake Coordinator and Dani Finn, Principal of Carrie Ricker Elementary School
Left to right: Hawo Abdille, Lewiston Public Schools English Language Learner (ELL) Intake Coordinator and Dani Finn, Principal of Carrie Ricker Elementary School

On September 26th, Hawo Abdille, Lewiston Public Schools English Language Learner (ELL) Intake Coordinator visited Carrie Ricker Elementary School to talk with 3rd graders and share her knowledge, upbringing, culture, and experiences as a native of Somalia.

As up-beat music played through the loud speakers, about seventy-five 3rd graders filed into the multi-purpose room, greeted by a wide-smiling Howa, bopping to the music and saying hello to each of the students as they took their seats. Howa was playing a video of people doing a traditional dance at a Somali wedding. She started by introducing herself and where she was from, providing a little bit of background about herself and how she moved from Somalia to the United States at the age of nine, eventually settling into the Lewiston area with her family.

First showing the students where Somalia is located on a map, Howa also shared that, like here in the U.S., people in Somalia celebrate many different holidays both religious and cultural, and have other unique customs that they treasure and look forward to. She covered a broad range of topics, everything from the way people dress to what they eat, a popular topic among the students! Students were excitedly raising their hands to ask her more and more questions.

hands up

“Does it snow in Somalia?” One student inquired. “Do you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Somalia?” Another student asked.

The patient and experienced Howa answered as many questions as she could while also carrying on with her presentation. Howa is an alumna of Lewiston Public Schools, and now proudly serves the students and families who move to the Lewiston area as they transition into the community and enroll their children in school.

Students raising their hands in the crowdAs the 30-minute presentation came to a close, the students didn’t seem to fall short of yet more questions for Howa. Principal Finn asked them, “Do we want to invite Howa to come back again?” A question to which the students replied with a resounding, “YES!”  Happy to oblige their invitation, Howa promised to bring Somalian food next time she comes.

In talking with Principal Finn briefly after the presentation and before she had to rush off to dismiss students for the day, she excitedly shared her success with the Cultural Competencies Series, adding that she was lucky to have the full support of her Superintendent Andrew Carlton and has been collaborating with RSU 4 Director of Curriculum, Assessment, & Instruction Kathy Martin to help integrate further cultural learning opportunities into the curriculum in multiple content areas. The series is meant to provide students with a starting point to a world of culture, knowledge, and experiences beyond their classroom walls.

Principal Finn has plans to bring a broad range of cultural speakers in to talk with all grade levels, all year long and going forward for as long as she can keep students engaged and find speakers willing to participate.

In seeing how incredibly interested and excited the students were to meet Howa, it seems like the Cultural Competencies Series could be the start of a long-standing tradition at Carrie Ricker Elementary School.

This article was written by Maine DOE staff member Rachel Paling in collaboration with Carrie Ricker Elementary School. If you would like to invite the Department to your school to write an article, or if you would like to send along a good news item for the Maine DOE Newsroom email Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.