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Teachers learn to reach out

Training program gives educators multicultural perspective

FARMINGTON — The words on the letter Jackie Thompson held unsteadied her hand and silenced the room:

"Think white, act white, talk white and fight white" to "maintain white decency."

The note, found last year in a high school in northern Utah, was an invitation to join a white supremacist group.

School districts in northern Utah answered it recently by using it as a visual aid for teachers attending a training session on understanding and appreciating the diverse groups within their schools.

Thompson, who is a certified Respecting Ethnic and Cultural Heritage trainer, read the letter during the awareness portion of the two-day training. Thompson, who is black, said the letter is a painful and realistic remnant of racism in Utah.

Racism didn't just occur during slavery 150 years ago, or the Holocaust 60 years ago. It happens today and it happens here, said Thompson.

Teachers need to be aware and need to learn what they can do to change it. Once they take that journey to awareness they can make a difference, Thompson said.

REACH teaches educators to prepare students in predominantly white schools and communities to live effectively and positively within a culturally plural world.

The program teaches five basic principles: multiple perspectives, culture is something everybody has, building cultural bridges, head-heart-hands healing and co-responsibility.

"It is important that people are willing to come and venture outside the box or risk a moment in that personal security and become aware," said Norma Jean Remington, a REACH coordinator in Davis District. "As we help them become aware of issues and concerns and possible solutions in those basic REACH principles, they become co-responsible and then become a part of the solution."

Teachers learn that there are different points of view and what those are. They learn that everyone has culture and therefore multicultural education is for everyone. And they learn how to make a difference at the classroom level.

In Utah, educators in REACH study and learn about perspectives from six ethnic groups: black, white, Latino, Asian, American Indian and Pacific Islanders.

"We look at different perspectives, and that validates the uniqueness of everyone," said Remington. "There are very few things that we all see eye to eye on, and so we recognize that people are different and in many cases there is not a right or a wrong, just multiple perspectives."

Remington said once those five basic principles are internalized, then teachers have the opportunity to work with students. "That impact then just begins to ripple in very positive ways, but it begins with a journey of self first."

Lyn Burningham, REACH coordinator at Jordan School District, said the goal is to have teachers walk away with knowledge and understanding of different cultures and specific ways to integrate that into the curriculum.

It's not an add-on, it's an infusion.

In the past, multicultural education consisted of teaching a unit on Martin Luther King Jr. or celebrating certain holidays, said Richard Gomez, state REACH and educational equity coordinator. But REACH teaches specifics on how it can be infused in all grades and all subjects across the curriculum.

Utah is the only state in the nation that has turned the program to a statewide initiative. With a licensing agreement from the national REACH center, Utah certifies its own trainers and has made the program its own.

Gomez said REACH has been in Utah since 1998, when state leaders recognized the growing diversity and were looking for a program that adequately addressed multicultural education.

More than 3,000 teachers have gone through the training, which is also used as a foundation course for English as a Second Language endorsements.

The program is not exclusive to the school system. Parents, students and community members have also taken the workshop.