Modern school curriculum is not just about traditional subjects merged with high technology. It also includes lessons on cultural awareness that have evolved over the past decades, where issues were once literally matters of black and white.
On Feb. 21, the district will host a special program for students, their families and the community to focus on diversity in the school community. The program is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the high school’s Google lab.
The program, titled "Beyond color blind, promoting inclusivity in the Nordonia Schools" will be hosted by the district’s new diversity consultant, Denise Ward. The program will focus on the programming provided for students and staff and allow participants to provide feedback "about where we are missing the mark and have room to grow in this area," said Superintendent Joe Clark.
Clark said Ward, who is with the district as a contractor from the Summit County Educational Service Center, will fill the post once managed by long-time consultant Michael Douglas and later by former Nordonia Middle School Principal Ryan Durr.
"She’s going to be able to talk with people about the different types of lessons she will be teaching our students, as well as to get feedback from the community about what else are they seeing that we might be missing that we will be able to focus on some more," Clark said.
He explained diversity is not simply a matter of race.
"I think most people automatically assume racial diversity, and certainly that’s a part of it, but we also talk about all sorts of diversity. It might be sexual orientation, it might be students in poverty, it might be anybody who is different or who is traditionally underrepresented," he added. "The biggest part of what we do — it’s mostly racial diversity."
"We’re almost 78 percent white, 16 percent economically disadvantaged — meaning kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch. We’re 12 percent African American and 11 percent with disabilities. Almost 4 percent of our kids are Asians or Pacific Islanders," he said.
The district’s ethnic landscape spans the globe, and includes 15 languages this year.
While the district had 77 students whose first language was not English four years ago, that number has dropped to 34 this year. Even so, those students’ native language include Gujarati, Punjabi, Korean, Romanian, Portuguese, Chinese, Swahili, Spanish, Bengali, Nepali, Armenian/Russian, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Arabic.
"That’s more than you would think — that’s more than most people would expect," Clark said.
Nordonia High School Principal Casey Wright said it’s not only important to communicate with the students the importance of recognizing and respecting diversity, "it’s also important to communicate with the community."
Wright said that in addition to the diversity consultant, the district also works with organizations such as the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio, a Cleveland agency that dates back to 1927, when it formed as the National Conference of Christians and Jews to combat organized campaigns of hatred spreading across the country.
It’s mission is to promote "understanding and respect and institutional equality on matters of race, age, religion, sex, ethnicity, culture, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. We achieve this through youth programming and by promoting diversity and addressing institutional bias in the workplace."
Wright said the Diversity Center’s programming includes presentations, trips to other school districts and a program that includes nine students from each grade that meets about six times during the school year for training in diversity awareness and on how to spread those lessons learned to other students.
Associate Principal David Broman said students invited to join the program are identified by counselors.
"The counselors work with the kids regularly," Broman said. "They know who the kids are and their strengths. We want them to be student leaders."
Topics for each of the six session vary.
"It’s kind of like the rights of each group," said Senior Nicky Dietzen, one of the club members. "We went through the Blacks, and we went through the Whites, and we talked about the inequality within all of them. We talked about the money issues. We talked about religion, for one of them."
Junior Julia Zaborski, another club member, continued.
"You’re only talking about the little guy, but that changes," she said, adding each session covers a different topic. "It could be gender, it could be race, it could be minority issues. You’re trying to represent the minority and understand that point of view whether or not you know it or are a part of it."
Sophomore Elizabeth Waight said some of the exercises the group has discussed have been a challenge and described how she felt after one program leader posed a troubling question.
"When you go, you learn something. It leaves you with very deep thoughts. The things that the man would say, I would get very angry. I would get defensive and you just have to learn that you don’t know everything."
Waight said the 36 students in the diversity club program have been well selected to spread the word.
"When they picked nine kids from each grade, they made sure that they had alternate perspectives. They made sure that they had all kinds of kids — not just physically, but emotionally too."
Zaborski said she is working on a project to spread the word even further among fellow students, and even considering calling it something other than "diversity."
"You can find leaders and you can find followers, and all of them are needed in a school," she said. "Hopefully people can understand how to be a friend all over again."
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or firstname.lastname@example.org.