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Importance of Multicultural Classrooms


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Back to school means back to the basics, and in North Carolina classrooms today, this means more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. Schools across the state increasingly recognize the importance of a multicultural education, with teachers educating students about our global society. Parent-teacher associations also involve parents in the process, and families are bringing home the lessons of diversity and inclusion.

Carnette Debella, a teacher who heads up the multicultural fair at Pearsontown Elementary in Durham, believes multiculturalism is an important component of a well-rounded education. "A student's knowledge base is increased by learning about different cultures," she says, citing lessons in world geography and history, national flags and languages.

Debella also says current events and international disasters can teach kids about other societies — from government and economics to family structure and housing. Through studying disasters, such as the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti and famines in Africa, children's minds are open to lend a helping hand when others are in need. "If our young people have been taught about different cultures, as adults they will be more willing to help in times of need," Debella says.

Nurturing open minds

Gilmara Johnson, an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher at University Meadows Elementary in Charlotte, believes strongly that multiculturalism is a valuable part of education. "Cultural content helps (students) review their preconceptions about a certain culture and hopefully treat everyone the same," she says.

Johnson says teachers should be aware of the nationalities represented in their classrooms to share knowledge and to prevent misunderstandings that may arise from language barriers or the expression of varying customs. In her classroom, new students are encouraged to present information about their home countries to their classmates. Johnson also frequently incorporates activities about her own home country — Brazil — into her lesson preparations.

"I usually make a compare-and-contrast activity, especially about holidays and monthly events," she explains. "I also have a world map on the wall and the name of each student on an index card with a thread linking to the country where the student comes from."

Technology enables children today to live in a global society, where they can view and communicate instantaneously with others around the world, says Roanne Ornelles, director of diversity at Summit School in Winston-Salem. "However, children cannot truly understand, appreciate and communicate with others unless they have experienced the culture in an authentic way," she says.

Parents understand the importance of multiculturalism, too. Tuyet Huynh, a Raleigh parent of three children, appreciates that her kids were exposed to different cultures at an early age. She says she feels her children, as a result, will grow into open-minded citizens who will more easily work and live within a global society.

Celebrating diversity

As students move beyond high school and college into the workplace, they will enter jobs that require not only critical thinking skills, but also acceptance of others' differences, since corporate offices, retail centers and manufacturing plants are hubs of people from all over the world. To translate academic achievement into a successful career, today's children need to graduate with a different set of skills than their parents.

"Students who learn to accept others of different cultures will have success in the diverse workforce they will find themselves in as adults," Huynh says. "They'll be open-minded, productive team players."

Beyond English, math and science, Ornelles says children must also learn "adaptability, effective communication, problem-solving and collaborative working skills for them to work well with others."

School communities that foster acceptance and inclusion among families are paving the way for the next generation of doers and leaders.

Providence Day School in Charlotte held a Global Day last fall, which was an outreach event from the school's Global Studies Diploma program. More than 600 faculty, staff, students, families and community members attended. Every region of the globe was represented, with exhibits featuring indigenous crafts, regional cuisine and facts addressing issues ranging from poverty and disease to economic development.

"The children really enjoyed learning about the cultures of some of their friends and experiencing some of their traditions," says Lisa Sicard, a Providence Day parent. "They particularly enjoyed watching the Indian dancing, playing backgammon in the Middle Eastern tent and trying out some fencing moves."

Many schools hold similar events. At the Pearsontown Elementary Multicultural Fair in Durham, children share art they create based on their impressions of the countries they study. Members of the community also are invited to participate.

"This year we had Chuck Davis and his famous African Dance Ensemble," Debella explains. "Previously, we had representatives from a local Turkish Cultural Center."

At Cary's Davis Drive Elementary, the PTA supports the cultural arts program, which offers performances that expose students to different cultures and forms of arts, such as the Liang Chinese acrobatic show.

Frank Porter Graham Elementary in Chapel Hill holds family focus nights in an effort to strengthen the school's connections with minority families. During Latino Family Night and African-American Family Night, families are invited to bring foods that reflect their cultures.

"Each event offers brief presentations by the staff and the community regarding opportunities available for families and children," says Susan Pegg, interim principal at the school. "The main goal is to reach out and say, 'We are here for you and your children. Please let us know how we can help.'"

Taking global awareness home

Whatever the format of a school's multicultural efforts, one of the ultimate goals is to encourage further exploration at home and within the community.

Scouting organizations provide excellent opportunities for students to gain a global awareness. Cassie McGowin, a Fort Mill, S.C., mom of twins, says Girl Scouts World Thinking Day promotes girls and their families getting together to learn about traditions in other countries.

Families can watch cultural programs on television, visit museums, and attend local festivals that celebrate cultures from around the globe, like the area Latino festivals this month. (See our Calendar Highlights page for more information.

Ornelles says the best way for parents to teach children to empathize with others is to model acceptance through their own interactions with others. "It is absolutely true that children learn by what respected adults do as much as by what they say," she says.

Lee Rhodes is a freelance writer in Waxhaw.

Diversity Increasing in the Triangle

More school-age children in the Triangle, or their parents, are from another country compared to the state as a whole. Of children ages 6-17, 6 percent in the Triangle are foreign-born compared with 3.5 percent in the state as a whole.

In the Triangle, in that same age group, 19 percent of children had at least one foreign-born parent, as compared with 13.5 percent in North Carolina.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Durham and Raleigh-Cary metro areas for Triangle populations

Wake County Public School System demographics reports show that diversity has increased in the state's largest school system during the last 20-plus years. The percentages of Asian, Hispanic or Latino, and multiracial students have increased significantly while the populations of white and black/African-American students have decreased.

Below are statistics that show growth for various race/ethnicity groups between 1987-1988 and 2009-2010.

American Indian/Alaska Native
1987-1988: 0.2 percent
2009-2010: 0.3 percent

Asian/Pacific Islander
1987-1988: 2.1 percent
2009-2010: 6.1 percent

Black/African-American
1987-1988: 26.7 percent
2009-2010: 25.9 percent

Hispanic/Latino
1987-1988: 0.5 percent
2009-2010: 11.8 percent

Multiracial
1987-1988: 0 percent
2009-2010: 4.8 percent

White
1987-1988: 70.5 percent
2009-2010: 51.1 percent

Source: Wake County Public School System

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February 2016

Enjoy extreme thrills, exotic animals and extraordinary performers. See website for showtimes and to purchase tickets.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Join preserve staff to search pools for salamanders. Ages 10-13. Registration required.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Enjoy extreme thrills, exotic animals and extraordinary performers. See website for showtimes and to purchase tickets.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Website »

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Cost: $2/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Cost: $4/child

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Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Enjoy songs, stories and fun in Spanish. Infants-preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Spanish for fun! Cary
100 Endeavor Way
Cary, NC  27513
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Sponsor: Spanish for fun!
Telephone: 919-677-7114
Contact Name: Cynthia De Amat
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Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Enjoy songs, stories and fun in Spanish. Infants-preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Spanish for fun! Raleigh
8000 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Sponsor: Spanish for fun!
Telephone: 919-881-1160
Contact Name: Carol Marin
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Kids ages 3-5 and caregiver make a craft together. Registration required.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC
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Telephone: 919-567-4000
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Enjoy storytime and a stuffed animal giveaway (one per child). Each family will be entered to into the weekly drawing among attendees for a gift bag. Event capped at 20 families to ensure a safe...

Cost: Free

Where:
Thrift 2 Gift
1402 E. Williams St.
Apex , NC  27502
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Enjoy songs, stories and fun in Spanish. Infants-preschoolers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Spanish for fun! Wake Forest
222 Capcom Ave
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Sponsor: Spanish for fun!
Telephone: 919-883-2061
Contact Name: Karina Martinez
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Cost: Free

Where:
Jones Theater, Ravenscroft School
7409 Falls of Neuse Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Ravenscroft School
Telephone: 919-847-0900
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Take a walk to count the variety of birds in the area. All ages. Meet at the picnic table at the New Hill Parking Area. Registration required.

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Go nutty for nature as children satisfy some of their curiosity about the world around them and parents share in the joy of discovery. Ages 3-5 with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Registration required.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Cost: $5/family

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: $18/resident, $23/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $2/person

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-996-6764
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Cost: $5/family

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $8/member, $10/nonmember

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
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Cost: $10/family

Where:
Music Explorium
5314 Hwy. 55, Ste. 107
Durham, NC  27713
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Telephone: 919-219-2371
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Go nutty for nature as children satisfy some of their curiosity about the world around them and parents share in the joy of discovery. Ages 3-5 with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Garden Supply Company
1421 Old Apex Road
Cary, NC  27513
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Sponsor: Garden Supply Company
Telephone: 919-460-7747
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Cost: $4/person

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Use natural objects to create birds found in the woods and build your own make-believe bird. Paint pictures using feathers and learn the importance of color in birds. All ages. Registration...

Cost: $4/child

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Stop by the manager's office to enjoy bird-related games, activities and crafts.

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Join a park naturalist on a one-mile hike around the pond and help to identify and count the birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Learn how to identify backyard birds by sight, sound and other...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Cost: $5/child

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-996-6764
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Cost: Free

Where:
Southern Home Crafts
111 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Telephone: 919-233-1598

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Cost: $15

Where:
Clubhouse
3001 New Haven Dr
RTP, NC  27703
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Sponsor: BOLT- Building Our Leaders Today
Telephone: 704-900-1878
Contact Name: Julese Dortch
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Learn about owls. Hike along the trails to search for them. All ages. Meet at the Longleaf Shelter. Registration required.

Cost: $5/family

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-4342
Website »

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