Catholic Schools Respond To Cultural Diversity

At a diversity workshop for principals were, from left, Marian Hernandez, Kevin Coyne, Bridget Murphy, Alice Rios, Przemyslaw Murczkiewicz, Anthony Biscione, Theresa Andersen, Maureen Rogone, Jeannette Boursiquot-Charles and Dr. Brandy Ellison.

Did you know that in 2012, Catholic school students were 19.3 percent non-white and 13.9 percent Latino? The demographics in classrooms are constantly changing, so Dr. Brandy J. Ellison, associate director of research, ACE Consulting and adjunct professor for ACE English as a New Language Certification Program, spoke to Catholic school principals of Brooklyn and Queens regarding how to respond to the rapidly changing culture in their schools.

“I am here because I want to change not just the classroom and our response to the different cultures that we find in our classrooms, but I want to change the entire culture of the school,” says Alice Rios, principal of St. Agatha, Sunset Park. “We need to respond to the community that we have.”

“The aim of the culturally responsive classroom is to help us challenge stereotypes as well as to gain a deeper understanding of the students and the families that we teach,” said Anthony Biscione, deputy superintendent of schools and host of the professional development workshop. “My hope is that those working in our schools will find the tools that they need to build relationships. Festivals, food and fairs are wonderful, but we have to go beyond that. It’s not enough to just celebrate who we are. We need to understand who we are.”

Also present at the workshop were Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, diocesan superintendent of schools and Arielle López, marketing coordinator for schools and academies.

The principals included: Marylou Celmer, Blessed Sacrament School, Cypress Hills; Maureen Rogone, Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Academy, Flushing; Kevin Coyne and assistant principal Marian Hernandez of Our Lady’s Catholic Academy, South Ozone Park; Alice Rios of St. Agatha, bay Ridge; Jeanette Boursiquot-Charles of St. Bartholomew School, Elmhurst; Przemyslaw Murczkiewicz of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy, Bensonhurst; and Theresa Andersen and assistant principal Bridget Murphy of St. Rose of Lima School, Rockway Beach.

The commitment of these principals in responding to their communities begins with “Funds of Knowledge.” Though also a book, Dr. Ellison described Funds of Knowledge as “a perspective that is meant to heighten a sense of community at a school and really make parents partners. It is a way of achieving and developing that sense of partnership with parents. From that goal comes other benefits, like improved academics and social outbrings for students.”

The idea is to form partnerships for the sake of the student, but these partnerships must be based in a real understanding and respect for one another.

“My hope,” said Dr. Ellison, “is that through this presentation and the interaction that these schools will see the benefits of doing this kind of thing for the partnerships that would evolve in the workshops and perhaps, in the future, work with each other and within their communities to enact some of these policies.”