Culture Fest returns to Shakopee High School next week after months of preparation by students.

High school students in LEAD, the Leaders in Education and Diversity organization at the school, have been in charge of setting up the event for yet another year. The community organization, according to its school page, “emphasizes the importance of diversity and promoting inclusion within the community” through its community projects and service.

LEAD has been running for about 15 years and started running its annual Culture Fest around six years ago.

Culture Fest celebrates the various diverse communities that make up the Shakopee community through food, music, dances, performances, fashion and resources.

This year’s festival will have a group from each continent that represents students from the high school, according to information provided by the school district. The district in total has over 70 languages present through students and their families.

“We promote diversity in the community, so we wanted to make sure that we promote diversity here at the school. We have such a diverse group of students that we wanted to celebrate that with the school and with the community,” said Monica Sariego, LEAD advisor and Spanish teacher at Shakopee High School.

Sariego and students have been planning for the festival for months. Around 40 students are involved with LEAD, with 10 of them holding leadership roles within the organization.

The organization has also had to multitask throughout the last year, as they find time to host additional events like a winter gift drive and a celebration for Day of the Dead.

LEAD Co-President Chloe Witherington, a high school senior, said students spent the start of the school year building a strong foundation within LEAD and developing a better understanding of what leadership role each student can provide within the group.

Around January, students started figuring out who they wanted to have at the festival and the types of representation they wanted to showcase.

“There’s a lot of cultures that are kind of just brushed over at our school, and I feel like when we talk about history and social studies and things like that, it’s pretty black and white. So I think we felt we wanted to bring in different groups that people can make connections to,” Witherington said.

“Leading up to Culture Fest, we wanted to have all these cultures represented properly,” added Kulmie Abdi, LEAD communicator and high school senior. “For most of these young kids who come to see our Culture Fest, when they see all those performances, our goal is for them to be like, ‘I can see my culture. I can see myself being represented.’”

Students in recent weeks have worked on designing the festival’s brochures and strategizing ways to keep food lines efficient, with food being donated from local restaurants that represent various families’ cultures and countries of origin.

Cultural resources will also be available onsite, with the Shakopee Diversity Alliance, Mi C.A.S.A. and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community all in attendance for the festival next week.

Students beyond just LEAD members also have a hand in this year’s Culture Fest.

A highlight of the festival each year is the fashion show, which displays cultural garments from all over the world. Approximately 50 Shakopee High School students will be participating in this year’s show.

Students are also involved with the special performances, as a high school student from each performer’s culture will introduce them to the audience ahead of a performance. Culture Fest will have performances this year from Titambe West African Dance Ensemble, Boriken, Tay Phuong Lions, Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue and the Shakopee Native Drum Program.

This year, the school is also welcoming some exchange students from Spain, who will be able to attend and partake in Culture Fest.

Witherington, Abdi and LEAD Treasurer and high school senior Amar Hussein noted the student involvement branching beyond just their student group, thanking everyone who has gotten involved. Students from the high school’s Black Student Union and the Association of Latin American students have also had a hand in this year’s festival.

“I think the thing that I’m most excited for is to see everybody smiling and laughing and having a good time at something that we’ve spent months putting together,” Witherington said.

“I imagine my own younger self watching Culture Fest and experiencing how you can still be connected to your culture,” she added. “For my family, I feel like that’s been more difficult just because our family’s been here for so many generations. So I think that it’ll be really cool to see people like me still experiencing and seeing their own culture too.”

Admission is free and takes place at the high school Thursday, March 23, from 5:30-8:30 p.m.