When Faced With Diversity, This Parent Dives In

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I’m a mom. And I love being one. Being a mother, and everything that comes with it, shapes my life and gives me purpose.

I know that at times my life may seem boring, even mundane. My daily schedule, I admit, revolves around my children. Most of the things on my to-do list are for them.

However, I am finding that as my children get older, the world grows bigger as well. And then things start to get more interesting. Let me explain what I mean.

One of my responsibilities as a mother is helping out at my son E’s first grade classroom. It’s something I take seriously, not only because my son loves having me in his classroom but also because I know his teacher needs and appreciates the help. And in a very real way, I take away from their classroom life experiences that end up making me a better person.

I remember the first day I walked into E’s classroom. I remember being so amazed at how the class was so diverse! The students looked like they came from all over the world. It really was like a United Nations delegation in there!

As I got to know the students, however, I realized that it wasn’t just the color of their skin that was different.  I realized that they had different cognitive, emotional and physical needs as well. My admiration for my son’s teacher went through the roof!

If you’re a parent, you understand what I’m talking about. Chances are, your child walks into a classroom much like my son’s. Chances are, your child spends the better part of the day in an environment that is racially, culturally and linguistically diverse, with classmates that have varying physical needs and capabilities.

Consider the statistics:

  • As of January 2009, the Department of Homeland Security reported that there is an estimated 12.5 million legal, permanent residents in the U.S. The top ten countries of origin are Mexico, the Philippines, China, India, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Canada, El Salvador, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom.
  • In 2007, the Maryland State Department of Education Fact Book reports that of the total enrollment of 845,700 students in the Maryland public school system, 40,358 were students with limited English proficiency.
  • From the same MSDE Fact Book, in 2007 to 2008 there were 104,585 special education students in Maryland alone.

12.5 million immigrants. 40,358 ESOL learners. 104,585 special education students. Those are huge numbers. But those are not just numbers on some government report. We’re talking about people here, many of them children. And these children, like my own, find their way into America’s classrooms in search of knowledge and acceptance.

Today’s classrooms are diversified like never before. As adults, it’s a reality we’re learning to accept. For our children, however, it’s the world they are growing up in.

Once again, my maternal instincts kick into gear. And I start to worry.

I worry over preparing my children to live in a world that doesn’t go by one established set of rules, one accepted way of living, one menu to order from and one language understood by all?

I worry about how they can adjust and function amidst so many different personalities, physical capabilities,  and emotional needs.

I worry over how I can effectively teach them to respect everyone, no matter how different they are.

Lastly, I worry about what I can do to not only help them succeed in their academic careers, but also to take advantage of the richness having such a diverse environment can bring.

Providentially, I am also a full time education student (with hopes of becoming a certified teacher some day). And as an education student, and through the field education component of my classes, I am exposed to the classroom setting on a different level.

So far, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with all kinds of students–special education students, English Language Learners, disabled students as well as general education ones. And where my book knowledge intersects with my experience, I find I am developing a passion for helping all students. And this passion is gradually finding a voice in my writings.

See, it doesn’t matter if you are Caucasian or African American and able to trace your roots back to the first ships that landed on America’s shores. It doesn’t matter if you just moved to America last year, or if you were born and grew up here but your parents still speak their native language. We are all members of the same society, and as such, I believe we are required to share the burden of making our society work.

In this instance, I’m drawing your attention beyond our children’s academic success and toward equipping them to function well in their diverse and multicultural world. They are, after all, the future of our (adopted) country.

Here’s what I suggest: let’s dive in and help our children navigate these international waters. And here’s how we can do it:

  1. Get involved at school. You know how we like to have a voice in the things that matter to us? Well, that’s exactly what parent conferences provide. And don’t stop there. Volunteer, help out, stay connected. It takes so much more time and effort but the rewards can be unexpectedly priceless. I know this for sure.
  2. Model a tolerant behavior. Your child will reflect your values and attitudes whether you like it or not. Most times we’d like it to be “Do what Mommy says and not what Mommy does” but our children are smarter than we think.
  3. Expose your child. It’s modeling the behavior, but on a bigger stage. Show your child how beautiful other countries are, how rich their cultures are, and even how good their food can be. One of the benefits of living in Maryland is the unlimited array of choices when it comes to restaurants and groceries. I can take my kids to an Indian or Italian restaurant, or we can stop at an Asian grocery and buy ingredients to make Korean barbecue.
  4. Buy them books that cover diversity. Story books set in other countries like Japan, Chile or Kenya can capture your child’s imagination and give them a point of reference when conversing with friends and classmates.
  5. A diverse classroom is a microscopic version of the real world. Teach your child to build friendships with everyone and to learn from each other. Nothing can beat one-on-one interaction when it comes to learning acceptance and tolerance.

Maximizing my children’s time at school is my goal. But I’ve learned that this doesn’t just involve teaching them to read and making sure they do their homework well and on time. And doing my time in volunteer hours, of course. It also means taking advantage of their diverse world to help them become well-rounded individuals who love and respect those who are different from them. If my hubby and I can do this, then we would have fulfilled a big chunk of our parental duties well.

To read more about:

Immigration statistics, go to:

http://www.dhs.gov/files/statistics/immigration.shtm

The MSDE Fact Book, go to:

http://www.msde.maryland.gov/NR/rdonlyres/0C24833A-9CBE-4C09-9010-B7BD88F4B1E0/18996/FACT_BOOK_20072008_123091.pdf

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One response »

  1. Excellent! Brilliantly written, researched and extremely informative! If you don’t get an A out of this I don’t know what your teacher is looking for.

    I have to agree with your steps to helping our children deal with diversity (this is helpful not only for kids, but for teachers as well, in diverse classrooms). Involvement, modeling and exposure. I think for Breanna, having Dora and Kailan to watch on NickJr definitely helps. I think I can tie this in when we take her out to eat at Mexican and Chinese restaurants.

    Another brilliant post!

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