CAMDEN, NJ—There was a tour of the United States; traditional Italian dancing; a skit on the history of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas; a lesson on sharks from the world’s different oceans; Jalikunda African drums; and a poem about the seven continents with the line, “Seven continents, one people, unified.”

It was a celebration of international diversity at Octavius V. Catto Family School on Thursday morning, and the students putting on the show represented as diverse an educational background as the globe it was celebrating.

The performance was the culmination of the Camden City School District’s six-week summer enrichment program, and was put on by its general education, bilingual and special needs students from across all different grades — together. 

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“There is no where in the world that I could come and witness such incredible learning and performance,” Acting Superintendent Katrina McCombs said. “To see the level of inclusion is absolutely phenomenal.”

CCSD’s summer enrichment program’s main goal is to prevent summer slide in the 600 students enrolled this year in grades kindergarten through eighth. According to the program’s lead teacher Nikreena Steed, summer slide occurs when students are not reading or doing anything to stimulate their brains over the summer months.

“It’s our hope that by them attending the summer program, when they come back in September, that drop [in performance] that normally happens between June and September, there’s less of that and they can retain more information,” Steed said.

Steed said another goal of this year’s program was to teach the students the importance of tolerance, diversity and inclusion.

The students days consisted of literacy and math work in the mornings with their respective peers, and in the afternoons they would split up into clubs and activity groups with children from across all grade levels, learning abilities and languages.  In addition to learning, the students all received free breakfast and lunch each day as well.

“Just because someone may appear different than you in their physical abilities, or even in the way they learn, we are all so similar,” Steed said. “It taught our gen ed students to be more sympathetic and empathetic, and to just be more helpful — and not just the students, but the adults as well.”

Thursday’s program included pre-K, fourth grade, special needs and drama club students singing “One Small Voice,” third- and fifth-graders performing a short skit on the regions of the United States and fourth- and fifth-grade general education and bilingual students performing a skit on Meso-America. The performances often included sections performed in Spanish, and in one performance sign language was used.

“It shows them that despite anything else that may be going on, everyone learns in their own way,” Steed said. “We can’t look at someone who may have a disability and think that they can’t do something that you can do, because they may be able to do it better — just differently.”

In addition to preparing for and performing in the end-of-program assembly, students in the program also worked on a number of classroom projects as well.

"The things that they’ve done here — I’ve been teaching for 19 years, and I am so impressed by how much work they got done," said Steed.