Cultural Diversity in Our Schools By Sgt. Anthony Espino Many communities have become more culturally and ethnically diverse. This diversity has carried over into our public schools, which have been experiencing rapid growth in the number of students of color and culturally diverse students. The Census Bureau projects that by the year 2100, the U.S. minority population will become the majority, with non-Hispanic whites making up only 40% of the U.S. population. Given that statistic, there is no doubt that students will need to learn how to interact in a diverse environment. How can teachers effectively engage with students from diverse backgrounds? Providing students with a culturally responsive learning environment can be a daunting task for teachers. Ninety percent of U.S. public school teachers are white; most grew up and attended school in middle-class, English-speaking, predominantly white communities and received their teacher preparation in mostly white colleges and universities. As per the Department of Education, since the 1987-1988 school year, educator diversity has seen a slight increase of five percentage points, from 13 percent to 18 percent. The proportion of African-American teachers decreased over that period, according to the department’s report. Moreover, today, black male teachers make up a mere two percent of the workforce. Having diverse teachers provides role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and in preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society. Teachers are often a young immigrant’s first contact with someone outside their home, community, and culture. This relationship can be essential in providing an emotional trust that can help a student adapt from their culture to their new country of residency. Offering a mix of creativity, cultural perception, and professional expertise, teachers can help these young students acquire language skills more rapidly, fostering inclusion in the school community. Organizing classroom activities and lesson plans geared toward multicultural appreciation can help students feel comfortable and accepted. Displaying posters of different cultures and languages in the classroom can help promote an environment in which students from diverse backgrounds will feel more comfortable. Many of these children are faced with obstacles before entering the school system, including language barriers. Many of their parents can’t read or speak English, which makes it difficult for them to help their children completing classroom assignments. Financially, some of these families can’t afford to provide their children with school supplies needed for the classroom. Many of these children feel out of place or scared. They’re coming to a place that’s much different from their cultural and religious beliefs. Parents, guardians and other family members are a crucial component in educating and preparing their children’s future. They serve as role models, and this links them and society as a whole. Being active in their children’s learning can help ease the tension, confusion, or frustration that may arise when children are trying to navigate cultural and language differences. Providing materials in appropriate languages and offering professional and volunteering interpreting services can help to break down communication barriers for families and encourage them to be involved with their schools. Cultural diversity provides our students with an opportunity to learn about other cultures, which in turn helps them to have a better understanding of how people from different backgrounds live. With this understanding, hopefully, they can gain a greater appreciation for cultural diversity. Every step toward racial equality is worth the effort. Sgt. Anthony Espino is a 19-year veteran police officer, assigned to the Patrol and Crime Prevention Unit. His passion is to lecture to community members, teachers, and students to promote awareness and offer tips to prevent crime and victimization.