Cultural Diversity In The Classroom

Kandace MackDiversity Initiatives, In the Media

Cultural Diversity In The Classroom 2023
Photo Credit: Montessori Institute of North Texas

Chicago has been receiving a large influx of migrants from Central America over the past year. In a recent article describing Mayor Johnson’s strategies and response to the increase in migrants, ABC7 Chicago says that about 11,000 have come into the city since last August.

With the increase in the migrant population comes an increase in cultural diversity in schools. Chicago Public Schools serve students from many different cultural backgrounds who speak many different languages. As a result, students’ native languages mingle with their primarily English-taught education.

In a New York Times article, the publication asked teenagers: “What role does your family’s native tongue play in your life?” A pattern among student responses was a sense of pride. “I bring my culture and language with me wherever I go,” says Riyana, a student whose family speaks Marathi and Hindi, two common languages in Mumbai and Pune where her family originates from. “[My native tongue] is a piece of the puzzle that makes me who I am and something I’d love to share with the rest of the world,” says Linden whose family speaks Farsi.”

Native tongues can be a source of connection to students’ families, ancestry, and peers. For educators, it can prove to be a challenge to honor and incorporate native languages into the classroom. The emphasis in Western education is often one of assimilation. Affirming students’ home languages and celebrating diverse cultures not only contributes to a safe and welcoming classroom but also provides learning opportunities for all students and prepares them for the expansive and culturally diverse world.

So how do you promote a diverse classroom?

Photo Credit: Region 7 Education Service Center

An article from Drexel University outlines strategies to engage in diversity in the classroom. In conversation with The New York Times article about native tongues, the most notable strategies are “Get to Know Your Students” and “Practice Cultural Sensitivity.”

By getting to know your students and creating space for them to share about their language and their families, you’re offering them a safe space for them to express themselves and you’re creating a line of communication through which students can convey their needs. You’re affirming their pride and connection to home and leaving room for their families to contribute to the conversation too. By practicing cultural sensitivity, you’re expanding your knowledge of culture, honoring differences, and opening yourself up to feedback on how to continue to best serve your student population.

So, as new families are welcomed into Chicago Public Schools, it’s important to remember that native tongues and culture are core parts of identity that should be celebrated in all classrooms. Practicing and promoting diverse learning environments will benefit all students and create a nurturing, kind environment that will be conducive to learning.