By Joseph Thomas
Freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area
A diverse secondary school environment offers a number of benefits to the educational and overall life experience of high school students. It better prepares them for college, career, and life. One of the benefits of a diverse School Environment, according to Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia, is that “diversity enhances cognitive development through exposure to novel ideas and experiences.” In short, being exposed to a diverse environment increases one’s world view and ability to empathize with and understand others. That skill is vital for building and maintaining relationships, both professional and personal, in the world. A sentiment that is echoed by Dr. Marthaa Torres, Director of K-12 Instruction, Oakland Unified School District and member of the Board of Directors at Salesian College Preparatory.
Uniquely and richly diverse, Salesian College Preparatory is located in Richmond, California. It has an ethnically, socio-economically, and culturally diverse student body with roughly equal representation of African American, Hispanic/Latin American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Multi-Racial and Caucasian students. This creates and offers a truly diverse educational environment, which is supported by its mindful and socially conscious faculty, staff, and administration. Both Dr. William Heidenfelt, Instructional Coach and French teacher at Salesian and Dr. Torres explain, there are many “slices” to diversity, the “visible” elements --such as ethnicity or people who look like the people you know at home -- and the “invisible” elements-- such as language and relating to each others’ similar life experience, which can significantly improve engagement with students. Dr. Torres further states that in a diverse environment “Students learn not just from the teacher but also one another” and that “part of the goal of education is to expose students to a broad range of ideas and engage with a wide range of peers.”
Diversity needs to carry through to curriculum as well. An example of diverse curriculum shared by Dr. Heidenfeldt was a lesson on fashion in his French class. “When people think of fashion, they think of New York or Paris,” Dr. Heidenfeldt remarked, “I wanted to broaden their understanding of that.” To accomplish this, Dr. Heidenfeldt created a lesson surrounding a fashion show which spotlighted various fashions of the Francophone (french speaking) nations of Africa. Through his desire to create a diverse curriculum, Dr. Heidenfeldt introduced his students to a whole side of the world often not explored in High School Textbooks.
The various sides of diversity (both visible and invisible) when shared in the classroom hold a great many benefits to students. The student has greater engagement in seeing something familiar to them as well as expanding their horizons by learning something new and exciting together with their diverse group of peers.