School leaders get lessons in teaching diversity

Students at Bishop England High School in Charleston incorporated lessons on diversity into their artwork. (Provided)

As more educators across the country incorporate diversity and inclusion into their daily curriculum, Catholic teachers and staff weigh whether they are doing enough to instill these vital lessons. 

A group of teachers tuned in recently to a webinar on the subject, “Who’s Talking to the Children about Diversity and Inclusion?”, sponsored by the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries.

Kathleen Merritt, director, addressed how to raise strong children by presenting them with well-rounded experiences, including fellowship with different races. 

“We have to go the extra mile to make sure our kids know about different cultures,” she said.

Deacon Larry Deschaine, one of the presenters, spoke on the need to include Catholic Native American traditions into school curriculums as well. 

Deacon Deschaine noted the unique pro-life value Native Americans place on the different life stages and their foundation of family and community. 

He said multi-cultural dialogue is essential as a way to exchange ideas and perspectives, and to understand different viewpoints and foster community building. It also helps build coping and resiliency skills throughout communities. 

Michael Tran, assistant director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries, addressed the disparities that the Asian community has faced over the past year. 

“There have been attacks on Asian Americans due to the virus with very negative sentiments directed at them,” he explained. “They have been a target of hate. As parents and educators, it is important to teach our children about diversity sensitivity. We are all children of God.”

Practicing empathy and teaching cultural sensitivity to students is important, Merritt said, but stressed that teaching resiliency to students who have been the victims of these behaviors is also essential. 

She suggested schools show the movie “Harriet” to high schoolers and incorporate diversity games for younger students. She said another opportunity to teach about diversity and inclusion is at the holidays, when you can educate about different traditions. 

Amy Johnson, an art teacher at Bishop England High School, said art projects are a great way to open difficult conversations. She shared pictures of her students’ art pieces and what inspired them. 

“Allowing the students to identify with their feelings and create these pieces helped them open up and I think helped to validate their feelings as well,” Johnson said. She said the webinar further inspired her to learn about different ethnicities and pass that understanding on to her students.

Merritt also encouraged people to read and share the pastoral letter against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love”, developed by the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. 

“The pastoral letter reflects on the dignity of every human person and establishes the Church’s moral imperative to combat racism as a life issue,” she said.