Cultural Competence

Cultural Competency 101: Go Into The Community (Lesson 1)

Camden, New Jersey is one of America’s most dangerous cities. It is so not because the people are without morals, values and a drive to be better people. Camden is a post-industrial city. With the influx of African-American and Latino communities saw the departure of the cities White residents. With the White residents went commercial businesses. Major industry remained but by the 1990’s, factories and warehouses that employed most of the residents of color were all but gone. With industry gone, there are very little employers that afford well-paying opportunities to the mass of city residents. All that is left are not for profit institutions such as city and county government, schools, hospitals, churches and social welfare organizations. There are few good jobs to go around to city residents; most of the well-paying jobs are occupied by individuals who are in no rush to retire. Residents settle for the jobs available to them in the city, look outside the city for employment or find hopelessness in the land of opportunity and are unemployed. It’s easy to call those who are unemployed lazy. When you’ve had the opportunities to gain the education necessary to acquire a career that provides for you and a family, you are privileged. When you come from a network of family and friends that can make phone calls to put you in position for academic and professional success, you are privileged. So when you are diagnosing the problems of someone else, particularly the families of folks who live in America’s inner-cities (the families where the students that you teach come from), be sure to check your privilege and leave it at the door.

When I taught in Camden, we had a number of great ideas to help improve student achievement. Some of those great ideas were not so great. One such idea was the extended day program. Our superintendent, encouraged by the board chairperson, created a program that was mandatory for the entire middle and highs school. It was a charter school, so we already had an extended school day; we started at 8:30am and ended at 4:00pm. The extended day program lasted from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. In theory, it was a “good” idea. The program would focus on providing kids with fun activities to help with standardized test prep. But the problem was we had students who had to walk home. During the majority of the school year, days were shorter and thus it got dark early. It came to no one’s surprise that parents were concerned about their students leaving school so late, especially if they had to walk home. Teachers understood the concern, but they weren’t concerned themselves enough to advocate that the program be discontinued. It wasn’t until a 10th grade students reported that she felt uncomfortable walking home. Where she was walking to was a neighborhood notorious for drug activity. When she made her plea to administration, it hit them that maybe allowing kids to walk home in Camden at night was a bit reckless on their part. In January of that school year, the program ended.

What stuck with me was that many of the teachers spoke to how they wouldn’t walk alone at night in Camden or anywhere for that matter. Yet some of our students had to walk on some of the more dangerous streets of the city every day. I, along with other teacher colleagues and administrators, convinced the district to institute a walking tour through Camden the next year. We took teachers in groups of 10 through a North Camden neighborhood so that they could walk the very streets their students had to travel every day. The experience didn’t make the school the most culturally competent; however the minds and hearts of some teachers did change. That walking tour wasn’t a cure-all but it made some people think. Some teachers started to consider even more, the daily challenges students face outside of the school day. Teachers need to get out and into the community they serve. Here are some ways how:

5 Action Steps

  1. TAKE A WALKING TOUR OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE YOUR SCHOOL IS LOCATED. If your school is located in a place you consider dangerous, take 1 or 2 people with you. But you shouldn’t let the danger of the place stop you. Your students walk the neighborhood daily. Look at the homes, look at the streets, notice the items you see on the ground, take in the sounds, breathe and smell the air… immerse yourself into a community you may have never entered. Doing this will give you a new perspective on exactly what your students must see and handle on the way to school and back home. How do you think they feel when they see what you’ve seen? How does the location, without any interaction from people, play on your mind and spirit? How do you think it plays on the mind and spirit of your students? What do you notice about your surroundings? Is this a place you would settle your family? What are the implications of such a walk for your students and how would this “trail” impact a student’s thought of you and school?
  2. VISIT A LOCAL RESTAURANT IN THE COMMUNITY. One of the things that make us feel like a community is when we eat together. In the inner-cities and urban areas of America is a richness of food and eateries. You and a few teacher colleagues should visit a restaurant, once a week even, and patronize it. Take menus back to your school and if you enjoyed the food, shout your endorsement from the roof tops. Doing this does two things: first, you get acquainted with the community i.e. landmarks and people. That type of currency is important when building relationships with your students. It says that you aren’t one of those people who just come to school and only to school. The second thing it does is it puts money into the community. Patronizing a business owned by people of color in an investment in the community. That investment will elicit a return investment in you as a teacher and in your school as a pillar of the community.
  3. ATTEND A COMMUNITY MEETING. Whether it is a city council meeting, a conference held by a non-profit or university, a local economic agency, an advocacy meeting led by community organizers or even a community meeting led by administrators at your school; you should try to go to a meeting within the community. Your participation in the meeting maybe limited to listening but someone will inquire about who you are; you may be approached yourself. This is another great opportunity to meet new people and establish a network that can help you on the job.
  4. VISIT THE COMMUNITY ON A WEEKEND. You can complete numbers 2 and 3 on the weekend. But coming to the community on the weekends give you an opportunity to see the community when you’re normally not there. If you have errands to run, maybe you could shop local to your school community every once in a while. Maybe you can visit McDonald’s for example and possibly see your students (if you patron there enough). Maybe you and your significant other can go on a date at a restaurant your recently visited. If your bank has a branch within the community your school is located, do your banking there during the weekend and during the week. Think of other creative ways that enable you the opportunity to visit the community where you teach during non-school hours. Overtime, you’ll become more comfortable with that community; you’ll see the people differently, including your students
  5. LEARN THE HISTORY OF THE COMMUNITY AND NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE YOU TEACH. Every municipality has a story. The place where you teach has a story as well. You should get to know it well. Learning the history of a place helps you to understand the environment and the people; you familiarize yourself with the culture. You gain an appreciation for what makes that place what it is. You’ll then take that appreciation with you to the classroom. Visit a historical landmark in your school’s city. Most municipalities have a historical society of some sort. Visit there and if you have children, nieces and nephews or young cousins take them with you. Including your family members, especially the younger ones, can have a major impact in breaking down stereotypes.

These 5 steps are simple, common sense things that you can do to get a better feel for the population of students you teach and their families. Approach each step with an open mind and an open heart. If you don’t have love for your students in your heart, there is no way you will be able to step out of your comfort zone. Make sure you have the love and that the love remains intact.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark.

Lesson Action Steps:

  1. TAKE A WALKING TOUR OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE YOUR SCHOOL IS LOCATED
  2. VISIT A LOCAL RESTAURANT IN THE COMMUNITY
  3. ATTEND A COMMUNITY MEETING
  4. VISIT THE COMMUNITY ON A WEEKEND
  5. LEARN THE HISTORY OF THE COMMUNITY AND NEIGHBORHOOD WHERE YOU TEACH

Lesson Reading(s):

Lesson Reflection Assignment:

Directions:          Complete 3 of the 5 actions steps listed above (you may complete all). At the conclusion of each action step, please fill in the spaces the required information for each question. When you’ve finished all questions, please complete the essay underneath. [Disclaimer, to receive credit for this assignment towards your professional development certification in cultural competency, please email me at urbanedmixtape@gmail.com]

Action Step Form

1. Action Step Taken: ___________________________________________________________

Date Completed:     ___________________________________________________________

Where Did You Visit:               ___________________________________________________________

Purpose of Your Visit:            ___________________________________________________________

1 Person You Met:                   ___________________________________________________________

1 Thing You Learned:              ___________________________________________________________

 

2. Action Step Taken: ___________________________________________________________

Date Completed:     ___________________________________________________________

Where Did You Visit:               ___________________________________________________________

Purpose of Your Visit:            ___________________________________________________________

1 Person You Met:                   ___________________________________________________________

1 Thing You Learned:              ___________________________________________________________

 

3. Action Step Taken: ___________________________________________________________

Date Completed:     ___________________________________________________________

Where Did You Visit:               ___________________________________________________________

Purpose of Your Visit:            ___________________________________________________________

1 Person You Met:                   ___________________________________________________________

1 Thing You Learned:              ___________________________________________________________

 

Essay:    In 1 to 2 paragraphs, explain how completing these action steps gave you a new perspective or open mind about the people in the community where you teach. Also, explain how this new perspective will help you be a better teacher to your students of color.

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Categories: Cultural Competence

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