The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 28, 2012

MSU Literacy Day incorporates diversity in lessons for young children (W/VIDEO)

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — More than 250 kindergartners got to cavort at Minnesota State University Wednesday — and received some cultural-diversity exposure to boot.

As part of the school’s biennial Literacy Day program, the students from Hoover Elementary in North Mankato and South Elementary in St. Peter received more than two hours of instructional activities from 44 of MSU’s elementary education teacher candidates.

In academic jargon, the object of the exercise was to expose the children to the College of Education’s “devotion to infusion of cultural proficiency.”

That is, schools have become melting pots of diverse populations, whose educational attainments are dependent upon how educators and students respond to that changed landscape.

“Teacher lesson plans have changed to include ... all diversities. There’s not one standard lesson plan. You can’t teach one way down the middle of the road,” said Lori Piowlski, an assistant professor in the MSU Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

 And by diversity she means more than racial and ethnic. She said it also includes sociological and intellectual diversities that include impoverished students and special education pupils, all of whom must be “reached” by their instructors.

Is that placing an unfair expectation upon teachers?

“It’s the reality,” Piowlski said, citing her own teaching experience.

After graduating from Minnesota State, she taught in 1990 at a California elementary school that had no Caucasians and where teachers had to pass through two security gates to get to their cars.

Her point: Not all of today’s teachers-to-be will land jobs in non-diverse schools because even Kansas isn’t Kansas anymore.

Mankato Area Public Schools are still overwhelmingly white (82.8 percent), but minority enrollments continue to grow. The breakdown: Black, 9.7 percent; Hispanic, 4.3 percent; Asian, 2.7 percent; American Indian, 0.5 percent.

The Literacy Day program incorporated teacher-student activities inspired by the Skippyjon Jones children’s book series that employs liberal use of Spanish and Spanglish (words combining Spanish and English).

The program, in its second year, will be held again in spring for kindergartners from two more schools.

Piowlski said the program is provided as a service to elementary schools in the community that have limited funds for field trips.