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Our Growing Diversity

 Every state in our country is becoming more diverse as our population grows or shifts from place to place. Some of this diversity is driven by the employment opportunities our country continues to provide. Some is driven by the conflict in other parts of the world. The U.S. is often viewed as a refuge from that suffering.

As these students and families become a part of our communities, schools, and places of work, there are obstacles to be overcome. Our challenge as educators is to help these new students and families assimilate into our culture. We must teach them to read in a new language, understand math concepts, and understand our history and values. However, it is also our job to help our current students understand how to interact with people who carry a different history, culture, and in some cases, value system.

As a school district we have a responsibility to help our students recognize the growing diversity outside of northern Idaho. When our students leave the Lake Pend Oreille School District they will experience a different world than their home area. As examples:

Almost half of the record 50 million students entering U.S. schools this fall are minorities.

One in five of the above is Hispanic.

It is estimated that the number of immigrant children will grow from 12.3 million in 2005 to 17.9 million by 2020. This jump will account for all of the projected growth in the nation’s school age population, with rural communities expected to face the most dramatic changes.

This change is not simply a big city issue. Lewiston, Maine has a population of 36,000 residents. Almost 10 percent of their population, 3,500 residents, are Somali immigrants. In large districts like Prince William County, Virginia where 73,000 students attend, 13,000 are of

limited English proficiency with over 100 languages spoken. Every state in our country is becoming more diverse and one of our greatest challenges as educators is to help our students understand how to interact with others as they transition to adulthood.

In the work place, your children may interact with colleagues who observe Ramadan; find people whose culture demands a different style of dress, and whose holidays are different. They may hear individuals speaking different languages or read notices in two or more languages. They may witness racism. To effectively navigate this world, our students will be required to develop a respect for different cultures at a minimum, and perhaps even a thorough understanding of other cultures, if possible. As an example, a business recently suffered a walk out by employees who desired to pray at a specific time because it was their holy week. This problem might have been easily avoided if management had a deeper understanding of their employees and culture.

Politically, there are many opinions about how, as a nation, we include or even exclude different cultures. There is also a “predominant” culture in our country that many people believe should be adopted by those new to our country. That is certainly a political decision. However, as an educator, I simply know that our students need to be ready to enter into a society that is different than that which I entered as an 18-year-old back in 1969. As families and educators we can help them to enter it with reason and understanding.

A positive way to begin helping your children to understand the wider world is to ask your librarian, both school and public, for books that tell stories of different cultures. There are many fine novels and picture books that will help our students to develop an appreciation for the differences. Jump right in to read these stories as a family. Compare and contrast the differences. Your world view is important to them.

Although we often decry television, one can find numerous specials, PBS stories, and news programs that focus on the world outside our neighborhood. If you subscribe to cable, the world literally opens up. Artists and musicians from different cultures are often featured on television.

Finally, dinner conversation is a great opportunity to talk about our changing world. The conversation begins simply with respect toward one and all. It is a great departure point for our students as they head out into a rapidly changing world.

 

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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

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