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In-service day offers teachers cultural development

by ana anthony/daily globe Phyllis Braxton (left) is shown conducting an activity with teachers during the intercultural development session at Worthington High School.

WORTHINGTON -- A room full of teachers and several community members gathered Monday at Worthington High school for an intercultural development workshop as part of the staff development program for the Flexible Learning Year (FLY) initiative.

While the more obvious part of the FLY is the waiver granted to schools to start the year two weeks before Labor Day, there are numerous programs conducted to boost student achievement, said District 518 Coordinator for Teaching and Learning Tammy Timko.

The program on Monday was the first large-scale effort that included all 25 school districts with the FLY waiver. Worthington and Walnut Grove were the two sites to host the in-service staff development day.

The 500 educators who met in Worthington were given the option of two sessions based on a variety of topics that included technology in the classroom, identifying sources of behavior problems and intercultural development.

In Phyllis Braxton's intercultural development session, attendees engaged in discussion with Braxton concerning challenges in the classroom and tools to overcome those challenges.

"What social psychology tells us is that the first two things that we notice about a person before they speak are skin color and gender," Braxton said. "From those two things, we base about 50 percent of how we are going to engage and interact with them."

Teachers learned that culture and diversity are stagnant components unless intercultural competence exists.

Some of the common classroom challenges that surfaced were language barriers and the difference in values.

"The toughest challenge is probably how to be fair," Braxton said. "I'm going to treat everybody the same and I'm going to be color blind is not going to work."

Braxton said that while most teachers acknowledge the existence of differences among students, often times the exceptions they make for students of varying backgrounds prove to be ineffective.

Through an activity of using time as the example of value difference among the North American culture and those of other cultures, she explained that students' academic success is primarily affected by them having to shift their cultural norms.

"It is occupying so much of their mental, emotional, spiritual and psychological space that they only have that much more time left for math," she added.

A few key tools, she said, were to be transparent about their goals and to avoid being "infatuated with differences."

WHS family and consumer science teacher Bonnie Bents explained that she chose this session because she wanted a new perspective from someone outside the school district.

Braxton was among several of the speakers who school districts collaborated to invite.

"I thought I was really open but now that I've seen this, I know that there are more doors to open to understand other people," Bents said about the session.

Daily Globe reporter Ana Anthony can be reached at 376-7321.