Friday, May 4, 2012

Cultural Awareness in our Schools: Making All Students Feel Welcome

Madison Elementary School has set a multicultural and diversity goal centered on exposing students to different cultures and ethnicities. Based on the scores from the Staff Satisfaction Survey, Madison formed a diversity committee.  This committee set the following goal: Madison School will increase the social and curricular planning which demonstrates an appreciation of student cultural diversity.

An emphasis on exposure led to these changes over the past year. The Student Council does diversity announcements including historic and cultural topics each morning, and diversity tidbits are included in the staff bulletin.  Instructional material and guided reading books have been purchased to supplement diversity curriculum. The Library Media Specialist and teachers integrated technology projects with curriculum diversity topics

To include the community in their diversity efforts, some Madison teachers have invited parents in to read picture books from different cultural groups to the classes, and one fifth grade teacher’s class had speaker phone calls with her grandmother, who only speaks German.

Even the artwork has been a witness to the changes. Multicultural art work is displayed in the hallways and classrooms. “Welcome” was painted in many languages at the entrance of the building, and college students painted a diversity mural that showcases multiculturalism.

Madison is taking more efforts than these to increase cultural awareness in their students.  The teachers realize that building relationships with their students is essential to engaging them academically and enabling them to succeed through developing a deep connection to their school and teachers and pride in their work. Many Madison teachers are implementing the 2 by 10 strategy, which aims at decreasing the number of minority students who are not being engaged in the classroom by encouraging teachers to take only two minutes on 10 different occasions spending quality one-on-one time talking with the students. With the 2 by 10 strategy, the door is open in terms of what to discuss. Teachers are encouraged to ask students about the things that are important in their lives, their interests, families, hobbies and friends—anything that is not school related.

What have been the results?
Below is an anecdote of one Madison teacher’s experience.

“I selected a young Hispanic boy from my class to help me with this 2 by 10 project. He is a wonderful third grade student, but very quiet. I felt like I did not know him very well and he never shared anything personal.  At first, he answered my inquiries about his plans for the weekend with a shoulder shrug. Now he elaborates more.   On one occasion, I was talking with my student while he was waiting in line another student tried to get in on the conversation. I simply said that I was talking to him and the other student would have to wait until we were done to have a turn. He had a huge smile on his face. I can tell you that it made me feel great.

He shares more information with me now, I still have to start the conversation, but he does talk more with me. He raises his hand in class more often. I think he feels more comfortable in class and I sure have enjoyed getting to know him better. I know this was supposed to be about my student, but I have to tell you that 2 by 10 has done wonders for me.”

Mary Demrow
3rd grade teacher
Madison Elementary School

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