23 September 2007

Multiculturalism in North Coweta

In Georgia, part of the historic Deep South, home of the capital of the Confederacy, there may not seem to be a place for multiculturalism. However, that is far from an accurate description of the quality of education in Georgia. Northgate High in Coweta County is a young school burgeoning with programs that allow students to examine and explore other cultures. Some examples include reading literature and creating visual-verbal documents that reflect the experiences of African-Americans and Holocaust survivors. Others include making Southeast Asian-style shadow puppets in drama classes. Don't forget making cascarones, piñatas, and Day of the Dead altars in Spanish classes. Music videos for le rap beur and le pop français are a popular project in French classes. Still, these are only beginnings, and as the school matures and expands, more will be necessary to bridge divides within the school’s own culture and to prepare future alumni for the world outside.

Since the school came into being little more than a decade ago, its population base has changed dramatically from a basically White, semi-rural middle and working classes to a suburban one that encompasses students from a variety of ethnic, economic and social and political backgrounds. At times, among the students there is evidence of cultural misunderstanding. One setting that brings a large portion of theses diverse students together in a new cultural setting is the world language classroom. At Northgate, students have the option of studying Spanish or French if they pursue a college preparatory diploma. This year, about 1000 students at Northgate participate in world language classes where they have multiple opportunities to compare hispanophone and francophone cultures to their own. Theses classes have long been the place where students come to correct cultural misconceptions, and all of the teachers in the department help students recreate authentic moments for themselves. Not all are successful, and some are hackneyed, but students come to appreciate the experience and many take advanced level courses to continue their studies and to gain skills that will better prepare them for a global marketplace.

Beyond the classroom, students can participate in a variety of different clubs, but a popular one with more than 50 members is the International Club or iClub. In its inception, iClub was little more than a combination of the French and Spanish clubs. But in only six years of existence it has grown from a few kids who occasionally met for eating taquitos and dancing to salsa music to a good-sized group of motivated students that participate in school-wide events like homecoming and that sponsor three other happenings to raise cultural awareness in the community at large. These get-togethers include the International Banquet to which students bring home cooked meals following authentic recipes from around the globe to share and experience together. Second is the Chinese New Year celebration that invites parents, students and teachers to enjoy culturally authentic foods beyond the take-out menu and to appreciate the symbolism and richness found in Asian-American culture. Lastly there is an International Film Festival that each year brings first hand voices from other countries to tell stories to our students in a way they might not seek out on their own or find readily offered in local movie theaters.

There's always room for growth, for more acceptance, diversity and tolerance. However, it shouldn't surprise that a seedling of multiculturalism can prosper in a little corner of the South. I'm glad to nurture it.

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