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Long IslandEducation

Forum tackles diversity, race issues within Long Island schools' curriculum

Participants attended workshops on how to discuss hate symbols in the classroom, as well as the disproportionate school suspensions of minority students.

Deputy Superintendent of Syosset Schools Adele Bovard, left,

Deputy Superintendent of Syosset Schools Adele Bovard, left, and Westbury High School English teacher Pepper Bonay-Martin talk with students, teachers and administrators during a forum on diversity at Molloy College on Saturday. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Students, teachers and school administrators joined a forum Saturday to discuss ways to develop a more culturally diverse curriculum in Long Island schools and how to better serve students from all backgrounds.

The event, Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Curriculum Forum, held at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, was organized by the Long Island chapter of Links Inc. and ERASE Racism, along with the organization’s student task force and Molloy's Educational Leadership for Diverse Leaning Communities program.

“It’s very easy for us to be ignorant of each other, because we don’t live together; our children don’t go to school together,” said ERASE Racism president Elaine Gross, who noted that Long Island is one of the most segregated regions in the country. “Implementing a culturally responsive education is one way to build a just Long Island.”

The K-12 participants attended lectures on subjects ranging from the need to teach more black literature to the problem of disproportionate suspensions for minority students and English language learners.  

Kristen Kyoneris, a kindergarten teacher at Jefferson Primary School in Huntington, found the lecture on suspension particularly eye opening.

“You think you’re really open-minded, but there are so many things that educators have to be aware of when you’re teaching students from diverse backgrounds,” Kyoneris said. “I think every teacher should take classes like this.”

Nichelle Rivers, the director of grants and funding of the Roosevelt Union Free School District, held a workshop on how to discuss hate symbols in the classroom. It’s a difficult topic to teach, and many educators shy away from it, but Rivers said it’s important students are given historical context.   

“We have to continue to have those types of courageous conversations so that the students and our youth can understand what those symbols and messages mean and how they can really impact people of color.”

Rivers spoke about a recent incident at Roosevelt Middle School where three teachers were put on paid leave for displaying images of nooses in a classroom.

“We don’t do enough to educate them to understand the history of these symbols and how they were used by the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize black people,” Rivers said during the workshop.

The student members of ERASE Racism also presented some of their ideas for improving the curriculum. Sage Gladstone, a ninth grade student at Syosset High School, noticed that her curriculum seemed to draw heavily from European history and literature, and she hoped more teachers would broaden their lesson plans to include material from other parts of the world.

“Our main goal was just to share with everyone that culturally responsive curriculum connects everyone and pushes for inclusiveness,” Gladstone said.  

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