By Janet Perry, AVID Consultant
“That girl has a funny accent.”
“He wears a strange head wrap.”
“Those kids take all honors and AP classes and never have time to hang out with friends.”
“That group dances to rap music during lunch.”
Comments like these can be heard from students across the country, with the underlying meaning often being that something or someone different from their norm is bad. Such perceptions can create a negative learning environment in a classroom that necessitates heightened sensitivity to cultural differences. So, once again, AVID is leading the way.
To help bring together students from different backgrounds, break down barriers to equity in education, and close the achievement gap, AVID Center has developed professional development curriculum called “Culturally Relevant Teaching” (CRT). This course not only provides educators with pedagogical tools that embrace rather than ignore cultural referents, but it also includes ways to engage and give all students access to rigorous courses. CRT has become a powerful course offering at every AVID Summer Institute and annual National Conference, and I had the opportunity to sit in on the strand this past summer in San Diego.
Tony Borash in his recent blog says: “I believe it is the social network built by those students enrolled in AVID that is the biggest benefit of the program.” So, just how do AVID educators reach out to increasingly culturally diverse students?
CRT staff developers begin by making participants address head on the tough issues relating to equity in education. For example, to avoid potential culture collisions, educators are assigned to various student groups that might be found on their own school campuses and then required to list and discuss stereotypes associated with each group.
Besides expanding their own awareness of different cultures, Culturally Relevant Teaching participants come up with solutions to help students understand their peers better. Taking advantage of even the physical classroom set up, teachers are asked to design the ideal environment for celebrating diversity while still pointing all students to college. They design “Brag Boards” announcing bar mitzvahs, baseball games, and quinceanera celebrations that both acknowledge and embrace students’ cultures, families, interests, and goals. Meanwhile, the college pennants typical in the AVID classroom are displayed alongside others from universities throughout the world as well as by international flags.
In CRT, teachers are encouraged to share their own unique talents and interests—from using rhythmic beats to reading poetry aloud—to model how varied backgrounds add richness to any education. They are also asked to share resources with each other, such as the Trevor Project that gives instructional resources to educators about bullying and provides avenues of support.
Through Culturally Relevant Teaching, educators create a learning environment where understanding and acceptance become classroom norms. Above all, however, while CRT-trained teachers stretch to learn about and reach out to all cultures and groups, rigorous learning to prepare for college remains the centerpiece of their classrooms.
Helping all students reach their potential takes hard work, and, as participants in the CRT strand learn, it also requires looking at your own culture – where you came from, where you are now, and how you see the world. While learning methodologies in the CRT strand, educators gain a new perspective and understanding both of themselves and of other cultures. By transferring this knowledge to their classrooms, teachers can more quickly weave a tight-knit group and better facilitate learning efforts.
Janet Perry is working as a consultant for the Marketing and Communications Department at AVID Center and previously worked as the Project Manager for AVID's Blended Learning Initiative.