To The Editor:
We gathered together at the South Norwalk Branch Library on February 25, 2014 for a community conversation about helping children succeed in a diverse society. With the hope of sharing concerns, solutions and action items with Norwalk legislators and Board of Education members, our group (one of three groups), discussed two topics related to diversity in our schools: “Racial/Cultural Awareness” and “Respect for Others.”
Our group included students, parents, educators, professionals, administrators and community activists from diverse backgrounds. Sherelle Harris, Board of Education member and Norwalk Public Library assistant director, sat with our group.
Early in our conversation, we heard from a middle school student who expressed aspirations to attend Yale University and to run her mother’s business. This student described her educational experience of being taught by one Black, female teacher who has high expectations for all her students. The middle school student acknowledged that she needs all of her teachers to help her achieve her goals to attend college and expressed her wish that all of her teachers would challenge her with such high standards. The student’s story touched the group.
Our group had a rich and compelling conversation about various issues, including the following: professional staffing, curriculum, home-child-school connection, the negative impact of labeling and tracking students, school climate and systems of accountability. While there were several concerns and solutions discussed, these are the collective concerns from our group:
• It is believed that many children have a hard time connecting with teachers and the instructional material and information being used in our schools, and their interest is continuously being lost.
• Too many students within the community are dropping out of school – perhaps because of the disconnect the students have with the educational and instructional experience. Harmony is needed in the school environments.
• Some expressed concern that that Norwalk needs to be more effective in making parents aware of the resources and services available.
• Many teachers appear to be unable to connect with the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural student body in the Norwalk Public Schools, and many parents believe this is impacting the students’ educational achievement.
• We need a more diverse staff of teachers and administrators, to be aligned with the diversity and needs of the student population. It was suggested that the teaching staff should reflect the student body.
• We need more accountability on all levels: administrators with policies and practices; teachers with teaching; students with learning, and parents with school involvement and ensuring that their children are properly applying themselves and learning.
Some suggested next steps or call to action included the following:
• Recommend that the Board of Education recruit, retain and hire more minority teachers. Also recommend the BOE examine current hiring policies and practices. For example, teachers should know during the interview that we embrace all of the students in our schools and that they are expected to bring out the best in all of their students.
• Continue this conversation. Engage the community in a public forum to help us all learn more about the subject of diversity and preparing our students to become culturally competent citizens in the 21st century.
• Encourage community members to attend board of education and other public meetings, and to join education organizations and groups.
Please be mindful that inclusion is a solution, not a problem and that diversity is not an imposition, but an advantage. We urge administration to look for ways to bring our diverse cultures, experiences and talents to the table.
Tiffany C. Roberson
Karmen El Nadira