In honor of the social media trend of sharing old photos on Throwback Thursday, Open Communities is sharing old blog posts that are still relevant today.
Originally posted December 8, 2011 by Gail Schechter
In 2011, our annual meeting focused on how a diverse community benefits all, including school children. Taking place on Sunday, October 23, at 3 pm at the Winnetka Congregational Church, this free, public event featured a panel of public school principals talking about schools and housing together, and how to make the school-book lessons about diversity real. Speakers were Dr. Ryan McTague of Niles North High School in Skokie, Dr. Jeff Brown of King Lab in Evanston and Erin Murphy of Field Middle School in Northbrook. The panel was facilitated by Barb Hiller, a retired principal herself and a founder of United We Learn.
The experiences of the three educators engaged the 31 attendees. Each school system has become increasingly diverse by race, national origin, income, and disability. At Niles North High School, Dr. McTague said “four out of ten students are born elsewhere” and 31% receive a free or reduced-price lunch. In Northbrook, Russian, Korean, and Spanish are the primary second languages today. At King Lab in Evanston, 40% of the students are African American and 40% are White.
How do they serve a diverse population? “If we were just handing people a book and a pen, it would be easy,” said Dr. McTague, but that’s not what’s best for the children. Lessons learned?
- “Let kids tell their stories.” What is it like to be me in this community?
- “Let kids educate the teachers.” Efforts that rise from the children in fact facilitate mutual communication.
- “Have family liaison programs.” These engage families, many of whom are new to this country and fearful of getting involved. Teachers should ask parents what their goals are for their children.
- “Hire a diverse staff.” As Lonnie Barefield, a retired educator in the audience said, “I should see in the faculty who I see [the kids] in the schools.”
- “Expand extracurriular activities.” These activities — arts, sports, civic engagement, etc. — have the “strongest correlation for success.”
- “Look to see who is being underserved.” To educators: Get out of your office, look at the demographic data for the school, don’t leave anyone behind.
- “Give every child the tools to be college-ready.” Mainstream children out of remedial tracks, so as not to expect less of them.
- “Don’t be color-blind.” Recognize that diversity only enriches.
As Dr. Erin Murphy of Field Middle School in Northbrook summarized, “Balance making child every feel safe and unique, while meeting academic standard.”
How can the lessons help build a proudly integrated community? Simply substitute the word “student” for “resident.”
Principals from Evanston, Northbrook and Skokie talk about diversity in the schools.
Moderated by Barb Hiller (left)