School Integration Beyond Demographics

(Photo by Alan Petersime via Chalkbeat)

School integration means more than bringing together students from different backgrounds, it should also involve lesson plans that are culturally relevant to all students. That was the message at a recent forum hosted by Columbia University’s Teachers College in which educators explored full integration. Among the teachers, who came from different parts of the world, were three who teach in NYC. In a story for Chalkbeat, Christina Veiga takes a look at the lesson plans they use to encourage diversity in their classrooms and make sure that all their students are represented.

Second-grade teacher Jessica Martell sought to give her students another perspective on the arrival of European explorers in the Americas, in particular, Christopher Columbus. With the help of fourth-grade teacher Abigail Salas, the plan would be to have Salas’ students “swoop into the second grade classroom while the younger students were out for gym, taking over the new territory they had ‘discovered.’”

A video clip shows that when the younger students returned to their classroom, they found the fourth-graders settled on a large rug. The second-graders stood frozen at the sight. One little boy elbowed his way to the front of the bottleneck, his chin dropping once he laid eyes on the scene. Someone declared she felt like crying.

“This is our room. It was empty,” Salas informed them. “We discovered this room.”

Students quickly made the connection to Columbus’ interactions with native people. They wondered how someone could be credited with finding a place that others already called home.

Martell also emphasizes personal history: “Each child has a history. That history is important. How do we learn that history?”

Go to Chalkbeat to read how she celebrates her students’ own history on their birthdays – with the help of their parents – and also see how kindergarten teacher Carmen Llerena makes the effort to collect her students’ stories – specifically, the story of their name.

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