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Supporting Duval's rapidly growing linguistically and culturally diverse student population

Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to attend and speak on a panel at a Duval County Public Schools mini conference for educators seeking to do more to ensure that public education for diverse students gets better each day. Today we are fortunate to hear from Christine Dahnke, Executive Director of ESOL and World Languages for Duval County Public Schools, who organized the conference. She shares her reflections here.


 undefined“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

The first time I heard this quote, it struck a chord. Here in the Duval County Public Schools ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Department, I am fortunate to work with a team of people who feel the same way.

A few short months ago the ESOL Team was deep into the problem solving cycle. We kept asking, “How can we strategically support our district’s rapidly growing linguistically and culturally diverse student population?”

Currently in DCPS, we serve over 5,500 active English Language Learners. These students hail from 122 countries and speak 105 unique languages. As the district support team charged with supporting schools, teachers, parents and students, what was a realistic way to expand our impact? It was then that a multicultural education symposium came to mind.

On April 8 at the Omni in downtown Jacksonville, the reverberations from our initial thoughts, coupled with extensive planning, purposeful effort and cheerful collaboration with a number of strategic partnerships came together to create a successful community event. Two hundred school counselors, principals, district administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals chose to spend five hours on their planning day sharing experiences and exploring how they could increase their cultural competence and in turn create classroom and school environments that were both culturally and linguistically responsive.

The most recent research indicates that culturally competent educators have the ability to successfully teach students who come from cultures other than their own. During our conference, we highlighted skill building sessions in the four areas:
    •    Valuing diversity;
    •    Being culturally self-aware;
    •    Understanding the dynamics of cultural interactions;
    •    Institutionalizing cultural knowledge and adapting to diversity.

Highlights included a student voices panel, a model classroom demo, refugee resettlement process exploration, religious literacy dialogue, implicit bias examination and our keynote speaker (sponsored by the Partnership for Child Health) Dr. Socorro Herrera.

While holding a mini conference is just a beginning, the dialogue and ideas that were ignited on this day have the capability to dramatically change outcomes for students in our community.  Knowledge is power and the more we know the more we are compelled to act.  We hope these sparks catch fire and produce enhanced community conversations on how Jacksonville can become even more inclusive and supportive city for linguistically and culturally diverse youth and families.

— Christine Dahnke

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