I would like to begin this post by stating that I am by no means an expert in Multicultural Education or Cultural Competency. I simply strive to do my best with the subject at every opportunity and improve upon my lessons where possible with Cultural Relevancy in mind. These are some strategies I have found effective and learned through both research and trial and error. Perhaps they can help you with making your garden program more culturally informed.
1. Know your kids’ names and how to pronounce them correctly
This is an area many educators, including myself can sometimes struggle with when they have hundreds of kids from various backgrounds. Remember, it is okay to make mistakes in this when first learning your kids’ names. What is not good and can be very damaging is remembering some kids’ names and not others or consistently pronouncing certain names wrong. Our names are one of the most concrete links we have to our identities. Our names often have meaning, either personal, familial, or cultural. When teachers, bosses, or other people in positions of power continuously get that key part of someone’s personality wrong, it can have a significant and lasting impact. This topic deserves more than just a bullet point in a blog- in fact, there are several articles on the importance of getting names right and strategies to help with it. Some that have worked for me are:
a. Make sure to ask what the student prefers to be called, even if it changes from one month to the next. I had a student whose given name was Margaret but she wanted to be referred to as “James”. While this didn’t stick, she was much more receptive to staff that respected her wishes of what to be called. I had another student who wanted to go by “Cash” for a summer, and even put it on his name tag. Be mindful when a student is experimenting with their own identity.
b. If you make a mistake, apologize and move on. Ask the student to give you the correct name again. Repeat the name back to the student until it sticks- it doesn’t hurt to ask again.
c. Have the name in writing associated with the student- use name tags or a seating chart with a written guideline for yourself for as long as you need to until you remember. If you are a visual learner, this can be extremely effective.
d. The old mnemonic device trick. Sometimes, without letting the kids know I’m doing this, I will come up with a trick for remembering kids’ names by associating them with one or more things that their name sounds like or that reminds me of them. If I have to, I write it down!
2. Representation of different cultures and backgrounds in materials in and around the program space
Kids don’t always see themselves in the literature presented in the classroom. Showing a diverse variety of gender, age, race etc. can be a simple way of making students of various groups feel welcome and included. This can be as easy and finding books that show different skin colors, or showing a youtube video of someone from another country. Representation in materials can also expand to the posters and print outs hung on the wall or the space. I give an example of this on my other blog where I highlight the Eco heroes I incorporated into one of my programs.
3. Signage in different languages
This step is pretty straight forward. However, in my experience, a lot of educators are weary of different languages being spoken in their classrooms. They are distrustful that the students are being appropriate or staying on task. In some cases, the language differences have even been a source of bullying behavior from students who choose to mock or imitate their bilingual classmates. This can be helped by celebrating the array of different languages in your program. Try having a “word” of the day up and asking if the students would like to share how it is said in each language they speak. You can also create signs for your plants that show a variety of languages. Sometimes you might be surprised when a student can read one in Russian, Arabic, or French!
4. Grow culturally relevant plants
Along with providing signage in various languages, you can also do some research around and provide vegetables and fruits that students might be familiar with.
For example, in one of my programs, I organize the beds into “recipes” such as pizza, stir-fry, and borscht. The kids get excited when they recognize the ingredients to some of their favorite meals from home. In the beginning of the program, you can ask what the students eat at home, what their grandparents make them, or just what their favorite meal is. This is a great jumping off point from which to design your recipe beds!
In addition to the plants themselves, you could employ growing methods that students can mimic at home, making the activity more accessible.
For example, planting things that grow well in containers or vertical settings for those that don’t have a big space to garden in at home.
5. Do your research and provide options
As I hope you have gathered from this post, culturally relevancy is not just black and white. It includes race, ethnicity, gender identity, ability, and much more. Make sure to get to know your students and their specific preferences. Not all students are the same, and not all students from one group will want to be treated the same way. When possible, give students choices in how they choose to do an activity, based on their ability, special skills, and knowledge base. Sometimes being flexible with your lesson will allow your students show you a new way of doing things you might never have thought of!