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A touch of culture

Diversity education rarely emphasized in formal studies at Tri-State area schools

Diversity education rarely emphasized in formal studies at Tri-State area schools

November 04, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Tri-State area students are of different races, genders and sexual orientations, but their diversity is often merely a fact of school life rather than a part of their formal studies.

The Washington County Public Schools system does not have a multicultural studies curriculum, although its textbooks and materials are selected with diversity in mind, said Boyd Michael III, executive director of Secondary Education.

Michael said students are encouraged to enter essay contests in which diversity is the theme. He said teachers put up displays and decorate bulletin boards to raise awareness of events such as Women's History Month and Black History Month.

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Washington County teachers had the option a few years ago to attend a summer workshop called "The Umbrella of Diversity" to learn about different heritages and how to look for ways to teach about them. The program was canceled due to lack of funding and interest, Williamsport Elementary School principal Carolyn Moore said.

Moore, who helped to teach the summer session, said diversity education teaches children "to work and live and play and love all the people of the world - and themselves, too."

Charles Holder, sociology teacher at Williamsport High School, teaches his students to assess the world's diverse environment. Holder said his students analyze U.S. history to see how minorities, ranging from Puritans in Colonial periods to Asians in the early part of the 20th century, have been treated over the years.

He said Maryland doesn't want teachers educating students on sexual orientation issues, but his students are interested. He said he feels obligated to teach them some due to their desire to learn.

"It's a bigger issue than black and white," Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Steven Nichols said.

He said the county has many families who speak English as their second language. Jefferson has developed a special committee to focus on multicultural studies.

In Berkeley County, Director of Instruction Donna Miller said that in addition to revising its multicultural curriculum each year, the county offers a popular high school Multi-Cultural Studies elective.

The Chambersburg School District doesn't have a multicultural studies focus but, like Washington County, it keeps diversity issues in mind when selecting texts, said Eric Michael, Chambersburg Schools director of curriculum.

Chambersburg also offers a special course. Tenth-grade students are enrolled in a Cultural Studies class that examines how different cultures are affected by current events. Michael said the emphasis now is on Middle Eastern cultures, due to the tension in that part of the world.

Russia and its culture will be the focus of an eight-week program at Boonsboro Elementary School this year. The program was developed by a group of teachers there who noticed a need for more diversity in their lessons.

Laura McDowell, media specialist at Boonsboro Elementary School, said that after moving 10 years ago to Washington County from Philadelphia she experienced culture shock.

She said she didn't notice much variety among the ethnicity of her students and community, which made her concerned about what her students knew about "different" people.

Now, McDowell and a team of teachers in art, music and physical education teach about the folklore, artwork, songs and dances of a different country each year.

"You learn people are different and eventually you learn everyone is the same," she said.

Washington County Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan was unavailable to comment.

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