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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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February 23, 2018

1/27/2018 7:29:00 AM
Cultural diversity matters at Pelican Elementary School
By Martha Knudtson
Pelican School Principal

This past summer, staff members from Pelican School attended the PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions & Support) Conference. One of the many takeaways from the conference was the importance of creating a culturally responsive learning environment. So, what is cultural responsiveness? Cultural responsiveness is the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of your own culture as well as those from other cultures. While diversity is definitely an important piece of cultural responsiveness, it is just one aspect of cultural responsiveness in our school environment. Culture is central to learning. It plays a role not only in communicating and receiving information, but also in shaping the thinking process of groups and individuals.

Pelican staff have taken many steps over the years to celebrate cultural diversity in our school, but we really became inspired to focus our efforts after learning more at the conference. The processes necessary for preparing to teach in a culturally responsive classroom and school can be broken down into three general categories: exploring one's own culture, learning about other cultures, and learning about students' cultures. Pedro Noguera, a professor at UCLA, said, "We must teach the way students learn, rather than expecting them to learn the way we teach." This is our philosophy towards helping every student reach their potential. As educators, we are committed to ensuring that all children can learn and achieve to the best of their ability.

We began the 2017-2018 school year with a renewed focus toward culturally responsive education. We formed a Culturally Responsive Committee to take the lead on planning school-wide activities and celebrations. During parent-teacher conferences, each family was invited to plot their heritage on a world map. This display hangs in the school hallway with the Bernard Baruch quote, "We did not all come over on the same ship, but we are all in the same boat." In December, classes studied holiday traditions of different countries and shared what they learned with the rest of their grade.

On Friday, Feb. 2, students and staff will come together in an all-school assembly focused on working together to "break down the walls of intolerance." We are also tremendously excited to unveil a new feature at Pelican School this week. Artist Amy Price has been painting a mural in the gym. The mural focuses on themes of cultural diversity and depicts both our individual strengths and challenges, and our unitedness as a Northwoods school community. Prominent images such as a schoolhouse, the four seasons of the Northwoods and the American flag serve as the backdrop. We also wanted to showcase the interests and activities that are of special meaning to Northwoods families, so the mural includes fishing, camping, and the natural beauty we are blessed with everyday. Silhouetted in the mural are images of students and families. It is of utmost importance to us to recognize the great variety of family structures and individual circumstances of our students. Among the figures shown, you can find students with disabilities, veterans and military families, and single-parent households. The entire mural is in the shape of a puzzle piece because it is the primary symbol for autism. The gym was chosen for the mural because it is a common meeting place for physical education classes, school assemblies, breakfast, lunch and parent pick up at the end of the school day. This location allows for maximum viewing every day.

The students have been very curious about what is going on in the gym, as the mural is covered during school hours until it is complete. We are incredibly excited to finally reveal it on Friday, Jan, 26. We hope that it will exist for many more generations as a statement of our commitment to understanding the families that make up our school community, and as a reminder to our students that every child at Pelican is valued, celebrated and supported.

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