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What culturally inclusive classrooms can do for the community

(Contributed)

Sherelle Harris. (File photo)

Board of Education member Sherelle Harris is chairwoman of the Board’s Curriculum & Instruction Committee. She is also interim Norwalk Public Library director.

Norwalk residents and our esteemed Board of Education team spoke to pertinent infrastructural needs in education during the Wednesday, Feb. 3., Planning Commission public hearing for the proposed FYE 2022 capital budget. You are well aware. Therefore, I am going to speak to a different need as it relates to human, internal needs that are in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Whether you believe in the model or consider it mere theory, I will preface the rest of my comments by asking you to first focus on number three (3). I invite you to re-visit yourself during your primary and secondary education experiences and see how that area was shaped – negatively or positively – and how those experiences shaped your adulthood. Did you feel valued?

Many years ago, students were not exposed to diverse cultures in the books available to them in their classrooms or school libraries. Things have changed. There is an array of material on different cultures, as well as books written in different languages. Children spend quite a chunk of their days in schools. What spoken and unspoken messages do we send to them by the things that they see in their classrooms?

When I started my tenure in Norwalk as a children’s librarian, I was delighted when grandparents, in particular, visited the library and I could offer bilingual — Chinese, French, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Japanese and Spanish — material that helped bridge the language gap as their beloved grandchildren were learning in English. I was incredibly happy to have had a hand in studying Norwalk and ordering accordingly where I could. Some parents and grandparents did not speak much English yet. I stress the word yet because I am going to plug the Norwalk Public Library’s Greater Norwalk Literacy Volunteers department that helps the adults who cannot yet speak/read/write in English.  Grandparents were overjoyed to share their grandchildren’s reading experience in English in a way that embraced their own cultures, of which they are very proud! If I may use my great grandparents’ vernacular, I felt I’d “done good”! When people see that you care about them, they begin to care about you (most times) and this can go a long way in defeating the polarization we are experiencing.
You may know the song Englishman in New York. Well, I changed the title and words at some point, not quite Weird Al Yankovic style, to Midwesterner in New England.  Even with being born and bred (Black) American, I know what it is like to feel different in some areas of the country. I personally respect the different cultures and love for people to feel welcome. That’s what happens when you grow up with love and acceptance.  You want others to feel the same. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. There are times and there are times, I’m sure, that we all truly understand the saying “the strength to love” if you care about that sort of thing.  I, personally, have to come to terms with my thoughts after experiences with egoistic/sexist/mere racially motivated/power-hungry people. The good thing is that we all can do better! Love and acceptance often begets love and acceptance, but we know what the opposite of love and acceptance can do.

Multicultural or culturally responsive classroom libraries or school libraries help children not only feel welcomed, but also engaged in school. Norwalk touts its diversity. Many people say they moved here because of our diversity. Norwalk is currently on an equity/inclusivity mission. In that vein, Norwalk Public Schools want to show students that we see them and that we value all aspects of who they are, including their language(s) and culture(s).

Children deal with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, bullying, etc.  Norwalk Public Schools has implemented social-emotional learning into the curricula because we take this seriously. It is our hope that by putting in front of children books that represent their culture(s) and the cultures of their peers, we can positively impact acceptance of self and others.  When we deal with the acceptance piece, it is easier for youth to move up Maslow’s hierarchy to esteem and success.
Frederick Douglass said in 1855 to slave owners about the immorality of slavery: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  I will say, it is easier to embrace the whole child in the children we serve than to heal a city, state, or nation at odds with itself.

Please see, below, the narrative of the curriculum and instruction request:

The existing balance of $265,205 for curriculum and instruction in the capital budget is being encumbered. For literacy, $172,000 is being spent on enhancing classroom libraries with books that reflect Norwalk’s population. The purchase of these books will be coordinated with professional, cultural relevance training for teachers. For Science, $93,000 is being used to complete the full adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) science curriculum with an emphasis on the second semester units of study. All activities will be completed during the months of March and April. For FYE 2022, as itemized in the capital request of $747,000, the District will spend $315,000 on culturally relevant materials for 21 learning commons/libraries (in contrast to classroom materials that is being funded in the current year); $346,000 for K-5 literacy resources to support reading instruction; and 9-12 literacy resources to support English course instruction.

​I thank the Planning Commission for their consideration in funding the curriculum and instruction needs of our students.

I thank those who spoke in support of the Norwalk Public Library’s digitization and technology needs.

3 comments

John O'Neill February 5, 2021 at 4:07 pm

I think everyone will agree ALL children need to feel included. I also think ALL children need to be challenged. Now that I think about it, ALL children deserve to have a basic education in a safe environment. Preferably an environment that includes working bathrooms..Doctor Estrella, are you listening??

Maybe I’m missing something from above — I don’t see the word “accountability”. If a child is not held to high standards than the school has failed them. I fear that is currently happening in today’s Norwalk schools. I would bet my life that if a referendum was held today, the vast majority of parents would overwhelmingly demand better discipline in the schools.
Back to the chart above — The blue box contains the word “respect”..Respect is an interesting word. You don’t have to have millions to command OR treat people with respect. So why is it such a difficult commodity to get a handle on in today’s climate? Are the school systems failing in the RESPECT category? I think so. Our educators are making a simple concept incredibly complex. While I think it’s imperative to respect each student, it’s also imperative for the school to DEMAND that child also fulfills their end of the bargain. Quite honestly, I don’t think that’s happening in Norwalk schools. Kids are allowed to disrespect authority without consequence. Why is that? Those kids are being underserved. Not understanding respect and accountability deprives them of traits needed to succeed as adults. Those in charge should look in the mirror, shake the cobwebs out and act like they care about the basics. It’s not that complicates.
#FIXTHEFREAKINGBATHROOMS
I may have gotten off topic — Kudos on the article above. Sorry for the distraction. It’s Friday. One Hour and 54 minutes until that first cold Budweiser of the weekend. Just a reminder — There are only 52 Fridays in a Year – Make sure to enjoy each and every one.

JustATaxpayer February 5, 2021 at 8:39 pm

It’s great to see a focus on this important component of educating kids.

I’m learning much about parts of education reading Thomas Sowell’s writings.

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