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Local Classrooms To Emphasize Cultural Diversity Through The Arts

Milken Family Foundation
Over the past few decades, experiences and backgrounds of students have changed. Classrooms now reflect families of varying cultures.

Educators say that engaging students in lessons that incorporate their own culture is one way to improve educational outcomes for students of color.

Over the past few decades, classroom demographics have changed, with students coming from varying races, cultures and socioeconomic statuses.

Educators in four counties including Sarasota and Manatee are now working with hip-hop artist and Kennedy Center fellow Olmeca to develop lessons that include different cultural references in all aspects of learning.

The arts education initiative is a partnership with the Van Wezel Foundation and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

“Teachers have been responding well,” said Kelli Maldonado, the hall's education director. “I’ve also had teachers say I’ve been teaching for years, and this is changing my outlook for how I connect with my students and their families.”

Olmeca's year-long virtual residency has already begun with teacher workshops.

Online performances and work with students will follow, and in April, Olmeca will work with school administrators.

Maldonado says the project will also help inform what kinds of performances the venue produces for students moving forward.

“We will ask how can we make sure that the acts that we present represent the wide range of experiences and cultures of the students within the districts," she said.

olmeca 2.jpg
Olmeca Facebook
Hip hop artist and Kennedy Center fellow Olmeca, is talking to educators about developing lessons that include a range of cultural references.

Culturally relevant teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in learning.

Olmeca, who also teaches at the University of Nevada, says many children haven't had the opportunity to learn about their own cultures and traditions in school.

"It's almost like students tend to go to school and they learn this kind of very narrow perspective of what America is that often times unfortunately make students of color and marginalized students’ feel kind of left out."

Olmeca says it’s a step toward acknowledging the gaps in academic achievement for minority students.

"I love bringing groups together to talk about essential topics and social issues such as diversity and inclusion," he said. "Culturally relevant education makes students feel valued and it raises the expectations of all students."

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