Kent County high school students this year will learn about topics not likely to appear in MEAP tests: racism and acceptance.
County superintendents back a plan to send all freshmen to diversity and cultural sensitivity, aimed at getting city and suburban students to better understand each other before they start meeting on the athletic fields in 2008.
Freshman will attend 5-hour sessions prepared by the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center, and juniors and seniors will have an opportunity to attend workshops led by staff trained by the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism’s Racial Justice Institute.
The county superintendents association has worked for several years to boost diversity training among staff, but this will be the first year the school chiefs have pushed for an extensive program aimed at students, said Marcia Logie, an assistant superintendent for the Kent Intermediate School District.
Logie said one of the goals is to prepare students from Grand Rapids and the suburban districts for when the City League teams join the O-K Conference during the 2008-09 school year. City schools have worked for at least four years to gain acceptance by the suburban-oriented league. But with the decision now made, school officials are citing goals of increased familiarity and understanding between communities and ethnic groups.
Students have asked for such training, East Grand Rapids Assistant Superintendent Jeanne Glowicki said Tuesday.
The Grand Rapids Community Foundation is picking up the $264,000 tab for the first two years of the freshman program, with the KISD paying for the workshops aimed at junuors and seniors. School teachers and other staff will be trained to lead the KISD workshops or the seminars at the home schools.
Munirah Mawusi, director for diversity development for the Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Diversity Training Center at Grand Rapids Community College, said high school students, “like all of us, need to take a look at our own lenses that filter the way we see the world. We need to be aware of why we think the way we think and know what we know.”
Mawusi said teens will learn about bias and discrimination from a historical perspective, and develop critical thinking skills.
The Rev. David May, of the GRACE Racial Justice Institute, said he will train people on how to use the group’s Healing Racism workshops with juniors and seniors. The group has piloted smaller sessions at East Kentwood High and several parochial schools in recent years.
“Kids today live in a world where racism is normalized to the point where they could be practicing it unaware,” he said. “Kids who have been victims of racism sometimes don’t even realize it, thinking that’s just the way things are. We tell them they don’t have to accept that.”
May said students will be told they don’t have to march or protest racism, but can fight just by making choices about where they live or shop.