Kids: Celebrating Diversity in Our Schools

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By Sandra Fletcher

Some kids don’t do as well as others in school. Part of it can be that they don’t feel supported or included in their school. The Ontario public school system is racially, religiously and culturally one of the most diverse in the world. We, as adults, recognize those differences and it’s important that our children recognize and celebrate them as well.

We can assume that kids who go to schools with diverse populations can develop an understanding of the cultures of children from different backgrounds. This can help make them more comfortable as adults, living in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world. Yet, as public schools become more diverse, teachers are faced with the challenge of making instruction culturally appropriate for all students while not favouring one group over another.

We know that schools have to take a proactive approach to acknowledging diversity and parents need to look beyond their own culture to evaluate a school’s approach to diversity.

To create a positive environment where students and teachers are respectful of different backgrounds the Ontario Government has decided to approach from the top down.

Beginning in 2008 the Ontario Government has implemented the “Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy”. It was designed to ensure that all students attending public schools in Ontario have the best opportunity to succeed regardless of their situation.

The Ministry of Education has listed 3 main goals in adopting this new strategy:
1. High levels of student achievement
2. Reduced gaps in student achievement
3. Increased public confidence in publicly funded education.

The idea of “Equity” in education is to ensure that all students, parents and members of the community are welcomed and respected inclusive of all people. The Ministry explains that equity does not mean treating all people the same without regard to their individual differences but means supporting and respecting those differences.

As a matter of fact, mutual respect is a large part of the equation. Teachers should never tolerate disrespect. They should establish ground rules for the class, and even let their students help to establish these rules. By creating a culture of mutual respect and safety it allows all members of the school to feel comfortable.

In their outline, the Ministry asks that all members of the school focus on each person feeling “safe, comfortable and accepted”. They acknowledge that some newcomers to Canada, children from low-income families, aboriginal students and students with special needs sometimes fall below the average in school achievements.

While there is always value in organizing special events at schools that raise awareness about diversity, it is sometimes difficult to include every culture in celebrations.

As an example, in December many schools put on end of term Holiday concerts. While traditionally these were to celebrate the Christian Christmas season, in the last decade publicly funded schools have expanded their concerts to include other religious and cultural celebrations as well. Concerts now often include celebrations from around the world including Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanza and Diwali.

Children learn throughout the school year of different celebrations and significant dates such as:
Chinese New Year (celebrated with Asian Heritage week), Black History Month, Easter, Earth Day, anti-bullying and anti-homophobia events and Breast Cancer Month. The more these events are built into the fabric of the school, rather than a one-shot deal, the more we will build diversity into the minds of the students. Schools should strive to create an environment where all children feel valued and all children can learn. Parents can also help to promote a positive environment that fosters a welcoming environment for all students at the school.

Find out if the school has a cultural fair or assembly to highlight diversity. You can volunteer with your school community council to organize one. If your school’s parent group doesn’t reach out to parents of ethnically diverse students you can help make a change.

The Ontario government is implementing their new strategy over the coming 3 to 4 years. While they recognize that this implementation will take time they can use all the help they can get from students, parents and teachers. By recognizing diversity and making sure that we have a fair and positive way to deal with it we can ensure that all of our student achieve their potential for success.

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