In a present reality where many small communities across Minnesota face a decline in population, workforce and schools, Worthington and the surrounding community stands apart as an example of a growing rural area. There is little question as to what has fueled our fortunate growth. Employment opportunities have brought people from across the country and from across the world to our community. With this immigration to the Worthington area has come an incredible amount of diversity.
Independent School District 518 has been gifted the chance to embrace this diversity and all of the strengths that come with it. Exposure to various cultures and ways of life creates more world-aware and prepared students, challenges students to think critically about issues, and raises levels of empathy and understanding in the student population. ISD 518 enhances our unique learning environment by filling lessons with teaching opportunities and utilizing the strengths of our diversity to our advantage. Teachers in classrooms across the district work lessons of diversity into their subject matters every day.
Diversity in the classroom, however, needs to be addressed beyond the students who sit behind the desks. The diversity of the teacher workforce should also be examined as an area to improve inclusion and utilize the benefits that come with that process. To this end, ISD 518 has collaborated with Southwest Minnesota State University and Minnesota West Community and Technical College with funding provided by the Southwest Initiative Foundation and the McKnight Foundation to begin bringing a teaching degree program to the Worthington area. The end goal of this partnership is to allow students from the area to receive a teaching degree and certification in Minnesota without needing to leave the Worthington community. This will foster a teaching workforce that more closely resembles the diverse student population in the district.
One of the first steps in this process occurred on Monday, June 17th and Tuesday, June 18th. A cultural competency workshop was held at Worthington High School. Teachers, professors, instructors and all types of staff from ISD 518, SMSU and Minnesota West were present at this workshop. In the two-day experience, current staff were exposed to ideas of cultural competency and were challenged to think of their personal level of diversity equity and inclusion.
Participants took part in using the Intercultural Diversity Index (IDI). This tool helps in measuring perspectives of staff on how culturally competent they believe they are as well as how culturally competent their responses to questions are. This tool helps to bridge the gap that is formed by the natural human assumption that we are better at something than we actually may be. Addressing areas for improvement and laying out a road map on how to get there are some of the key benefits of using the IDI tool.
Staff who took part in this workshop reported as having several eye-opening experiences related to a variety of topics and reflections. Some of the more prominent moments were reflections on their own intercultural experiences and how those may have affected their current position in life. One workshop is not enough to learn all there is to know about cultural competency. The process of equity and inclusion continues to develop and evolve every day within the world, our community and within the classroom. As we look forward to providing opportunities for ISD 518 students to have easy access to a teaching degree program, our district also will continue to strive for excellence in education in all aspects. This includes recognizing the strengths inherit in the diversity that our community enjoys.