Honoring Black History, celebrating diversity

file photoAndover School Superintendent Sheldon Berman

EDITOR'S NOTE: Andover School Superintendent Sheldon Berman occasionally submits columns to the Townsman.

At the Andover Public Schools, our schools are committed to shining a spotlight on Black history. From implementing service-learning projects on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to organizing cultural events that inspire us throughout the year, Andover students and teachers demonstrate their creativity as they deepen our awareness and understanding of the many paths that African Americans blazed in centuries past and the countless contributions they continue to make to our nation and to the world at large.

Each February, the nationwide focus on Black history helps to affirm the district's ongoing emphasis on recognizing and celebrating the cultural richness of our student body and of our families and community. It is vital that we not take for granted the ways that cultural diversity enables all of us to experience the world in greater breadth and depth and, in particular, the ways it promotes global citizenship among our students. Throughout Andover Public Schools, we are intentionally folding into our daily curriculum more and more opportunities that highlight the benefits of our diversity.

Beginning with our earliest elementary grades, we are steadily building classroom libraries for independent reading. These libraries encompass a wide range of literature that takes place in different countries, that is written by authors from different cultures, and that features characters with diverse backgrounds. This curricular strategy provides students with a window that looks out on a broader world as well as a mirror that reflects back on themselves. The stories prompt students to engage in meaningful discussions about multiple backgrounds and how differences and similarities play a role in their everyday lives.

We have also secured from the Cummings Foundation a $100,000 three-year grant that focuses on cultural awareness and, this year, will bring to all of our elementary schools the poet/songwriter/performer/educator Regie Gibson. Regie has the unique ability to engage children in frank conversations about their cultural diversity and other aspects of their backgrounds. He then weaves this information into music and poetry that he performs for the students to show them how their lives can be positively acknowledged and celebrated.

In addition, the new elementary social studies curriculum we are developing — One Community, One Nation — promotes understanding of world cultures. For example, students in second grade will explore cultures from four parts of the world — Kenya, India, China and Mexico — and then honor the heritage of all members of the student body. In addition, our elementary schools organize international nights in which students and parents share with each other cultural customs and traditions.

Last year we focused on cultural competence at four of our secondary level in-service sessions, using Facing History and Ourselves to learn how we could uncover and confront implicit bias and microaggressions. We also examined ways to honor diversity and how we can help students to feel comfortable at school, secure in the knowledge that their identities are respected.

We continue to work on ensuring cultural-identity-safe schools and we are introducing more diverse literature into our middle and high school libraries and classroom reading lists. More than 200 high school students are now engaged in our high school's global network, exploring not only how they can address United Nations sustainability goals, but also how to understand and work with other countries as we all strive to become global citizens.

Each year, numerous faculty members attend professional activities focused on diversity, such as the Building Bridges conference, and the district has formed a Cultural Competence Committee to guide our work in this area. In some of our schools, parents have formed their own school-based cultural competence committees. On Feb. 6, the School Committee approved the formation of Andover's new English Learner Parent Advisory Council, whose intent is to support parents who have come to Andover from all over the world.

From pre-kindergarten to our policy makers, equity and cultural diversity are important themes in our work. It is a genuine tribute to the character of our students, teachers and other staff that they have seized this banner and moved it forward in such a profound way. We hope you will join us in celebrating Black History Month.

Sheldon Berman

Superintendent of Andover Public Schools

 

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