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Sumner Elementary students showcase diverse nationalities through Welcome Walk

Those wanting to see the world could look out their backyard and see numerous nations represented just within a few blocks of their home on Wednesday afternoon.

Sumner Elementary School students participated in a Welcome Walk, where children created banners and drew various flags representing their home country or cultural background. For four years, the school has hosted its Welcome Walk, encouraging students to share their stories as well as heritage with each other.

“Everyone is welcome here,” said Jim Leichtnam, head of Sumner’s Equity Committee. “Every year, the Welcome Walk celebrates the diversity that exists in Sumner School. We wanted to recognize how we need to be open to other cultures, and acknowledge how lucky we are to have so much diversity here. All are welcome here.”

Students walked four blocks from the school building, and then looped around to come back to Sumner. Teachers and paraprofessionals marched alongside their students as the different nations represented on pieces of paper fluttered in the wind.

There was laughter, excited yells and chatter as the students proudly displayed their flags.

A Sumner Elementary student holds up a Mexican flag as the school prepared for a Welcome Walk Wednesday, part of Welcome Week. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

One of those students included Mohamed Kamara, a Sumner fourth grade student, who came to Austin from Liberia when he was only three or four years old. He got to experience many new things, from the changing seasons to making new friends in the Austin Public Schools District.

Carrying a picture of the Liberian flag he colored for the walk, Kamara said he was happy about being able to share his cultural background with others as well as remembering those who came to the United States in search of a better life and new opportunities that may not have been available to them.

“The Welcome Walk helps welcome people who came to Austin and showing them your flag,” he said. “We can appreciate all the people who came to Austin, and showing them where we came from.”

In Sumner Elementary School alone, there are 19 different home languages spoken by students. The racial demographic in the building is 36 percent Hispanic, 26 percent Asian, 19 percent black, 12 percent white, five percent native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and one percent being two or more races, according to Sumner Principal Sheila Berger. Inside a diverse school building, creating a welcoming environment where students can feel open and safe to share their cultures with others was one of the most important aspects to Sumner’s mission.

First graders hold up their flags as the school begins the walk.

“I love to learn as do most people,” Berger said. “I love to share how my grandma ended up in the Midwest and hearing our students’ stories is very exciting.”

The flag walk was in conjunction with the citywide Welcome Week celebration that honors the new residents of Austin who immigrated to the United States. It is a week for recognizing the numerous contributions immigrants have made to better the city as well as encouraging neighbors to talk to each other.

For those who watched the walk, the message was simple: Sumner School believed that diversity was its greatest strength, and that all students, regardless of their background, were welcome inside and embraced by staff.

“One of our posters said “We all smile in the same language,” and I firmly believe this,” Berger said. “Everyone wants their child to learn and be successful and we in Austin Public Schools have the luxury of getting to work with all children.”