Navigating cultural sensitivity through crucial conversations in an ever-changing world was the focus of a district-wide professional development held by the Lake Ridge New Tech Schools (LRNTS) with Byron Garrett, Chairman of the National Alliance of Family Engagement on January 31, 2018.
Over 150 staff members from all schools and departments worked together to identify areas of strength and challenge around cultural sensitivity when working with all stakeholders in the district, including parents, students, and each other. Lake Ridge New Tech Schools is a diverse district with a student body comprised of 30 percent Black, 30 percent Hispanic, 30 percent Caucasian, 10 percent multi-racial, and over 90 percent free/reduced lunch.
Staff attending the training were led on a journey to discover the strengths and challenges of their own personality styles and the impact such styles may have on their approach to issues with cultural sensitivity. The staff’s journey also revealed the impact privileges, such as gender, socioeconomic status, and education levels may have on their ability to understand culturally sensitive issues, such as poverty or race. Throughout the day, the staff was challenged to confront their personal ideologies that may be impacting their ability to fully engage with students, who come from different cultural contexts. Byron Garrett challenged all staff to treat each student as though they were “a genius who just did not know it yet.”
Dr. Sharon Johnson-Shirley, Superintendent of the Lake Ridge New Tech Schools organized the learning around cultural sensitivity for the day to lay the foundation for deeper work around this topic that will be taking place in the district more intensely over the next four years. Lake Ridge New Tech Schools was recently awarded two substantial grants to address the social emotional needs of the students in the district. Both grants are focused on building the capacity of the staff to support the social emotional needs of the students through strategies, which include culturally sensitivity, trauma-informed practices, and restorative justice.
As a first step in building the capacity of the staff, the recent professional development training was organized to help the staff understand the professional expectations of the district and how the district will work together as one team to help all its students. As stated by Dr. Sharon Johnson-Shirley, “If nothing else, our students must know we all care.”
All staff walked away with next steps to implement at the individual and school level to help students throughout the district.
Within four years, Lake Ridge New Tech Schools plans to become the first Trauma Informed School District in Indiana. The staff is embracing this journey because they understand that unless students feel emotionally safe in the school environment, learning will not occur. To do so, the staff must understand the need to address issues of equity, adequacy, and equality in their classrooms, their schools, and throughout the school district. Staff walked away from their learning with a new sense of pride and purpose in their work with their students. They know and believe that their impact on their students’ lives extends far beyond the four walls of the classroom.