Cultural training to help teachers relate better to students

| August 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

Grant money brings diversity experts to two St. Paul schools

Teachers and staff of two Catholic elementary schools that serve St. Paul’s east side and adjoining suburbs have started on the road to better work with the increasingly diverse families that have been changing the neighborhoods they serve.

A grant from an anonymous donor has enabled the staffs of St. Pascal Baylon School in St. Paul and Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Maplewood to begin training in cultural proficiency, a concept explained by trainer Brenda CampbellJones:

“Cultural proficiency is a mindset that esteems the culture of others as one esteems his/her own culture, while positively engaging and responding,” CampbellJones said.

“The goal is to increase awareness of personal culture, as well as the culture of others that lead to student success and better services to the community.”

Personal growth opportunity

Mary Jo Gilbert, who teaches fourth graders at Presentation, said the training made her aware that how she looks at the world was shaped by her upbringing and experiences.

“I need to expand that framework to include the experiences and upbringing of others, so all will feel welcome,” Gilbert noted.

This school year, she plans to work on having more conversations with students and their families in both informal and regular parent-teacher conference settings, as well as through student essays and journal entries.

“If we can understand each other’s viewpoints and reason,” Gilbert said, “we can understand each other better.”

Mike Kelleher, coach, athletic director and teacher of social studies, religion and physical education at St. Pascal, claimed there was nothing in the training he didn’t find interesting and latch onto.

“The material has made me more aware of the fact that all students, even those who are popular, successful and high achievers, are likely to have some factor which makes them feel uncomfortable at some point at school,” Kelleher noted.

Since the four-day workshop was the beginning of training for which St. Pascal and Presentation have contracted for with CampbellJones and another national expert in the field, Kelleher said he’s looking forward to additional sessions to learn more about how to recognize and address cultural factors affecting students because he wants to incorporate examples and information from various cultures in his classes even more than he already does.

St. Pascal art and language arts teacher Maureen Peterson commented, “The training raised my awareness and brought home to me the fact that not everyone looks at the issue of cultural similarities and differences in the same way that I do.”

Thanks to the initial training, Peterson said she intends to learn more about the cultures of her students and their parents this school year, “and to be less hesitant about asking students and parents to share their stories.”

More to the grant

The grant that is providing the cultural proficiency training includes two additional provisions, one to work with World Savvy, a nonprofit organization that educates and engages youth in community and world affairs to enable them to better learn, work and thrive as responsible global citizens.

The other will provide funds to contract with a private busing company to transport students who live in a designated area on the east side of St. Paul between the two schools.

The grant is an example of the collaboration and sharing of resources St. Pascal and Presentation have been engaged in for the past three years, according to the school principals, Daniel Bell of St. Pascal and Michael Rogers of Presentation.

Presentation of the Blessed

Virgin Mary School Principal Michael Rogers answered questions about the cultural proficiency training:

Q. What were some of the things you took away from the training sessions?

A. I was struck by the level of diversity that existed among the people in the training. We often look at each other and think that we have similar cultural backgrounds, and we base this on skin color. In reality, we are an incredibly diverse staff, and we each have a rich cultural background. We learned a lot about one another, which will help us to grow closer as a faculty.

Q. Will the training be readily applicable at your school?

A. Yes, the training is really the beginning of a journey in which we are all looking inside ourselves and becoming more aware of how our cultural background affects our work as educators. We are also beginning to see the many connections that exist between the training and the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. It is wonderful to be able to talk about this as a faculty and connect it to our shared faith.

Q. Are there already a significant number of cultures represented in your student body, or is this an effort to look ahead as the surrounding community undergoes change?

A. For us, this is a look ahead. We have started to see an increasing variety of cultures represented among our student population and anticipate that this will continue into the foreseeable future. This is not just a trend in our neighborhood but statewide. We want to ensure that our student population is representative of the people that live in this neighborhood, and this training will assist us with that.

Q. Will cultural understanding be a challenge for your staff, or is there a good sense of acceptance of the need to grow in this direction?

A. There is absolutely a sense that we will grow in this area. As educators, it is essential to know more information about our students so that we can help them learn.

In addition to having a school full of students with varying cultural backgrounds, we also have a wide variety of learning styles.

Since we all have student learning and whole-child development in mind, I found that my staff had a tremendous enthusiasm for what we are learning, and I look forward to learning more with them throughout the coming years.

This is not just a one-time training but a road that we will continue to travel together for the benefit of our students.

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Category: Back to School