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Costumes Spur Race Talks

One month ago, 18 Highland Park High students were reprimanded for coming to school dressed as gardeners, hip-hop and rap artists and gang members as part of homecoming activities. A handful of the 18 wore Afro wigs, fake gold teeth and baggy jeans on what was known as senior Thug Day. On Fiesta Day, one student brought a leaf blower to school. The students said they didn't intend to offend anyone. Critics ripped school leaders for allowing this to happen and called the students' acts racist.

Experts and school administrators say the situation presents an opportunity to talk about race relations and inequalities -- the key to preventing similar problems. They also say the incident shows that schools need to incorporate more diversity and cultural awareness programs and training into curriculum.

Anand Marri, an expert on multicultural education and race/ethnicity at Columbia University's Teachers College, said that any educational efforts must move students away from focusing on race. "We have to prepare kids to work with kids that are not like them," Dr. Marri said. Dr. Marri said part of the problem is that many schools are becoming more segregated while the country is diversifying. Some students who go to predominantly Hispanic, black or white schools have little or no contact with peers from different backgrounds, he said. To address this, school districts must teach about tolerance and diversity as early as possible. "When you're talking about trying to get seniors in high school, they've almost checked out because they're leaving that institution," Dr. Marri said. "A lot of these programs have to start much, much earlier, and it has to be infused throughout the entire curricula, not just 'Let's have a multicultural day' or 'Let's talk about Native Americans this week.' "

Dr. Marri said that sensitivity training is also important for teachers and administrators, but it must be more substantial than professional development. "There has to be a more holistic approach, especially with more homogenous school districts," Dr. Marri said. "Teachers should be trained in their teacher education programs to infuse curricula with multicultural, diverse perspectives."

This article, written by Kristen Holland, appeared the November 5th, 2005 publication of The Dallas News.

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