During the past few months, the Principals’ Office has featured the Minority School Network blog series, which focused on issues surrounding diverse student populations, such as ensuring a culturally diverse environment and how to leverage school leader and parent impact to sustain nurturing environments. Andre D. Spencer’s posting below will conclude the first installment of the Minority School Network blog series. But continue to check out the Principals’ Office blog for the upcoming coverage of NAESP’s 88th Convention & Exposition in New Orleans, April 2-6.
Communication Is KeyWe communicate with parents who speak English as a second language via translators from the district or local universities who are working on an internship. In addition, we have hired Spanish-speaking teachers to serve as translators if needed. When we send home documents, they are printed in both Spanish and English. In addition, when we send telephone messages home, we try to have a translator to speak in Spanish before or after the initial messages as we inform the parents that the next language will be spoken.
To get parents to come to conferences, we solicit their participation with fliers in their language and send out telephone calls via a global connect system in their language. We also offer incentives for participation (food, door prizes, cash prizes, etc.).
What are your ideas for communicating with and engaging parents who speak little or no English?
Andre D. Spencer is principal of Brehms Lane Elementary School #231 in Baltimore.
Meeting the needs of diverse and changing student populations must be a priority for school administrators and teacher leadership teams. This school year, our attendance zone changed after being the same for over 20 years! As a result, there are about 600 new students in our school who came from several schools in the district. Many of the new students were very disappointed to be forced to leave the schools they had previously attended.
To better understand this issue and our new student population, our teacher leadership team planned a staff development day where every staff member—custodial, cafeteria, clerical, support staff, teacher assistants, faculty and school administrators—boarded three school busses and toured our new attendance zone. For all of us, it was a very beneficial experience that contributed to thoughtful dialogue on how we may have underestimated what our children are capable of doing. Perhaps staff expectations were lowered because of perceptions about socioeconomic class. We found out that most of our students live in nicely kept single-family dwellings that have been renovated following the devastation of a major hurricane. There are two trailer parks and one apartment complex that has been newly renovated. The activity was one of the best we have ever conducted on a staff development day.
What has your school done to get to find out more about students’ lives?
Jackie H. Daniilidis is principal of Estelle Elementary in Marrero, Louisiana.
The Principals’ Office is continuing its discussion about how educators can ensure a culturally diverse environment that is accepting, supporting, and nurturing to all children. Nicole Nash Gales, principal of Springfield Ball Charter School in Springfield, Illinois, explains the significance of leaders in creating a successful culturally diverse environment. Such environments are “fostered by leadership that believes and expects all staff members to believe that ALL children are capable of learning at high levels,” writes Gales. “This high expectation extends to the expectation that staff build relationships with students and their families to learn their cultures, which are important to who they are as capable learners.”
Kenneth D. Burdette, academy director at Wyatt-Edison Charter School in Denver, Colorado, emphasizes the role of parents in developing a nurturing school climate. “What makes us unique and successful … is the manner in which we include the parents and families in the students’ education,” he says. “Parental involvement is invaluable to the success of a child. Through our home visit program, curriculum nights, and parent meetings we are able to work closely with our students and families on a daily basis.”
What impact do school leaders and parents have in your school’s quest for creating a nurturing environment?
- Making sure that children have clothes to wear, providing jackets for students who need them (we give out uniforms or sell them at a discounted rate). We also provide backpacks and school supplies to all who need them.
- Providing students with breakfast and lunch, giving them food bags through our weekend hunger program if they do not have food on the weekends.
- Providing after-school tutoring for some students and ensuring that others participate in the Boys and Girls Club down the street.
- Distributing all announcements and newsletters to parents in Spanish and English.
- We have a family resource support person on campus once a week to work with parents as needed. We have at least two parent meetings each month during the school day and have anywhere from six to 10 Saturday or after-school activities for parents and students (Literacy Night, Problem Solving Saturday, Mathopoly, Science Fair). At these activities we provide food, drinks, materials, and information.
- We try to choose multicultural materials to give out along with the books we give away. We give away lots of books every year; at least three per child and in the early grades one per child each week.
Brenda Reeh is a behavior specialist at Quannah McCall Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada
The Principals’ Office asked educators: How do you ensure a culturally diverse environment that is accepting, supporting, and nurturing to all children? Here is how one principal responded:
At Amerman Elementary School, I try to ensure a culturally diverse environment by exposing all students to many cultures. For example, we’ve started a school in Afghanistan, our Sharing the Dream grant will be with a Latino school, and I’ve sent three of my teachers to Japan with Fulbright scholarships.
An inherent part of our third-grade social studies curriculum is the study of our home town, a town in France, and a town in Japan. To expand upon the anthropological comparison, we use the Family of Man series to compare physical possessions and each class writes a book about a comparative topic. I enjoyed the class on pizzas from around the world, especially when the parents cooked the recipes for a taste test.
What steps have you taken to foster a nurturing and culturally diverse environment at your school?
Steve Anderson is principal at Amerman Elementary School in Northville, Michigan
For the next few weeks, the Principals’ Office will feature a Minority School Network blog series that is focused on issues surrounding diverse student populations. As classrooms become increasingly diverse, it is important for educators to acknowledge and address diversity issues and to network with one another for support and advice on how to integrate cultural differences within the school.
If you would like to join NAESP’s Minority School Network, please e-mail Jennifer Pascal.
Value the Diversity of Your Student Population
I am particularly dedicated to exploring issues of racial and ethnic diversity, and I am always amazed by colleagues who state that my elementary school is not ethnically diverse because 99 percent of the students are black. However, within that population, the students represent 20 different nations. It is important for education leaders to understand the difference between race and ethnicity, know the role that culture plays in both, and be aware of the different backgrounds, beliefs, and values of all of your students so that you can meet their individual needs, as well as those of their families.
One of the best ways that educators can learn about the backgrounds, beliefs, and values of students is by simply listening and observing. For example, teachers can have students research and report on their cultural beliefs and values as a social studies project. Parents should be invited to help their child present the report to the class.
In addition to determining our students’ individual needs, often we find that it is also important to concentrate on the needs of staff, many whom have not been trained to work with students from diverse backgrounds. Therefore, it is important that staff members take part in diversity training related to tolerance and eliminating biases and barriers that impede student achievement.
When adults do not understand the values and beliefs of others who do not look or think like them, they are missing out on a valuable learning experience. Valuing diversity will enhance our learning environment because there will be a sense of trust and belonging throughout the school.
What makes your school diverse and what diversity training does your school provide?
Deborah Harvest is principal of the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Academy in East Orange, New Jersey and is the Minority Foundation Member on NAESP’s Board of Directors