Embracing Diversity in First Grade: One Teacher’s Story

Embracing Diversity Kids- Kid World CitizenI recently connected on our facebook page with a lovely 1st grade teacher from St. Joan of Arc School in Canton, Ohio. I had asked our readers about embracing diversity with their children, and Lisa DeComo offered to share what she’s doing in her first grade classroom. I hope this piece inspires you as much as it inspired me and warmed my heart.

I have an absolute passion for exploring world cultures with my first grade students. Modeling this passion before my precious six-year-olds is the single most important factor in building their wonder of and enthusiasm for the world and its people. Rather than setting the low expectation of “teaching tolerance,” I prefer to teach children to CELEBRATE differences. The first way that I do this is to read lots and lots of multicultural stories, using a large world map to first point out where we live and then traveling with my finger to the country where the selected story is set. This gives the students a sense of spatial awareness between themselves and people from other countries.

Our class collaborated with a class in Nairobi, Kenya (called the “Cheery Education Centre,” in the Kibera slum) this past year. We were connected through the website www.epals.org. Via email and Skype, we shared what our respective school days are like, favorite foods, animals, weather, holidays, and songs. During one Skype session, we invited a storyteller from our public library to share traditional American stories and then listened as the students in Kenya recited favorite stories of their own.

During another session, we had as our guest a food writer from the local newspaper cook and serve African food and converse with the Kenyan children in Swahili (She had studied Swahili in college and never had the chance to use it!). She, in turn, wrote a lovely article for the newspaper about our global learning. We have also done the Hokey Pokey, recited The Lord’s Prayer – we are a Catholic school – and sang a song about peace with “our friends in Kenya,” as my students ALWAYS referred to them, unprompted. I have developed a wonderful friendship with the teachers as well, and we stay in frequent contact through Facebook.

Another way that we celebrate world cultures is through the arts. The organization Playing for Change brings musicians around the world together by recording them singing and playing on native instruments portions of a song, which are then seamlessly woven together and produced as a unified work (see how the videos were made here). We watch their videos and marvel at the love and peace that seems to flow between the musicians (here’s What a Wonderful World, and One Love). In addition to hearing the music, we can observe architecture, styles of dress, landforms, and vegetation in each country featured. Here’s “Imagine:”

Next year, as part of our science unit on water, we will address the fact that many places in the world do not have safe drinking water, learn about water filtration, and hopefully extend our unit into a service learning project in which we help to provide a water filtration system in an area of need, possibly Kenya.

Through all of these endeavors, the students come to realize that, despite our physical, socioeconomic, and geographic differences, we are all very much alike. If my students grow up respecting and embracing the similarities and differences of people of the world, then I will know that I have done my job well.

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.  Edward Everett Hale

I love how Lisa has embraced diversity with her first graders! By first learning about other cultures through multicultural literature, and then communicating in on-going conversations with their Kenyan friends, they are building true relationships using technology. I am so excited for her class to take action next year and possibly work on a water filtration project- this service learning is allowing her students engage in the experience and have a positive impact on the world. I love this! If you have an example to share, email me at kidworldcitizen (at) gmail (dot) com.

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What do you think? I love to hear from my readers:).