April 26, 2016
In an effort to connect more with all students, this year five faculty and staff members received a certificate from St. Mary’s University in Culturally Responsive Teaching: Director of Service Learning and Social Justice Ms. Lisa Lenhart-Murphy, theology teacher Ms. Becca Meagher, art teacher Mr. Zach Zimny, and English teachers Ms. Kari Koshiol and Ms. Callianne Olson. The program involved evaluating the classes they teach and seeing how the classes could be made more culturally responsive.
As a result of her time learning about Culturally Responsive Teaching, Lenhart-Murphy proposed that she be in charge of increasing equity and inclusion in the school. “I want to take on the equity and inclusion piece: how we train teachers about equity and inclusion and multicultural education, and how multicultural education is infused into the classroom,” Lenhart-Murphy said.
Lenhart-Murphy personally believes that encouraging teachers and students to have real, difficult discussions will be a large part of creating a more culturally welcoming community. “Conversations about equity, social justice, race, and gender can make people really nervous because they don’t want to offend or say the wrong thing, but Courageous Conversation teaches how to have those conversations in a respectful and enlightening way. We want teachers and students to ask hard questions and learn from each other’s experiences,” Lenhart-Murphy said.
With an eye towards equity and inclusion, English teacher Ms. Paula Leider has filled her syllabus with representation from as many backgrounds as possible. “I wanted to focus on the immigrant voice, the Native American voice, and the African American voice. I worked hard not to privilege the white voice,” Leider said.
Leider believes that when you have the ability to teach about experiences different from those most students have had, it is important to integrate that into the classroom. “The whole point of teaching English is to help students understand the human experience. That’s what writing is about: helping us understand what it means to be a human being. We cannot do that if we are not looking at all the voices,” Leider said.
In addition to the English classes, the Social Studies department works diligently to include as many perspectives as possible. Studying different cultures in the classroom brings diversity to the forefront. “We know the textbooks and prior coverage of history haven’t consistently been very ‘colorful,’ so we try to connect where we are now, as a society, to decisions or efforts of more than just white people,” social studies teacher Ms. Megan Kern said.