Falmouth schools put new focus on intercultural awareness

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FALMOUTH — With its new Intercultural Awareness & Inclusion Committee the Falmouth School Department is hoping to create a more inclusive and supportive environment, not just for students, but for the wider community as well.

At an organizational meeting held Oct. 18, about 30 people, including students, parents and staff, turned out to begin discussing what the committee’s vision and mission will be and what it hopes to accomplish.

Gretchen McNulty, learning director for Falmouth schools, said the hope is to tap into the “collective knowledge and skills of the group” in order to “make real progress this year.”

Initial suggested focus areas included diversity training for staff, diversifying the books available in each school library and clarifying or updating policies about school attendance and homework around all religious and cultural holidays.

Superintendent Geoff Bruno fully supports the new committee and said the group would “foster intercultural awareness and inclusion (while assisting) us in strengthening a sense of connection across our campus.”

“Our goal will be to continue learning from one another, exchange ideas on how to best support all of our students and families and prepare our students for a more globally interdependent world,” he said.

McNulty said as the district begins its work around intercultural awareness, it’s important to note that the schools are not just talking about making people from other countries feel welcome and understood.

“Intercultural awareness (includes the) multiplicity of differences that we each bring with us every day,” she said. “Those types of differences can be everything from religious to socio-economic differences, to ethnicity and sexual orientation differences, to regional or generational differences, and so much more.”

The ultimate goal of the new committee, McNulty said, is to “civilly engage in discourse about all of these differences in a way that is inclusive and focused on helping all members of the community feel valued.”

“An intercultural approach seeks to have people engage in purposeful (inquiry) such as, ‘I’m curious about who you are, and where you stand and what you believe. We may not agree but I want to understand your perspective and how you got to where you are.’”

Creating an atmosphere of intercultural awareness and inclusion is not solely about giving individuals “an outlet to feel comfortable and secure,” McNulty added, it’s also about learning from each other.

She said the new committee was based on feedback from the annual Community Dialogue event last spring, as well as from the Civil Rights Teams at both the middle and high schools.

The feedback allowed committee members to understand “that we can do more to foster intercultural understanding and inclusion in relation to our practices and policies, curriculum and learning experiences and community development,” McNulty said.

“The general mission or goal of this committee is to support all students in feeling connected to and part of the school community. We know that when students feel valued, part of their school, and safe to be who they are, their ability to learn is optimized,” she said.

The entire committee will likely meet four to five times over the course of the academic year to “develop broad goals and tangible action items designed to strengthen our schools and community,” McNulty said.

She said subcommittees or working groups would also likely engage in a variety of different focus areas to ensure “our curriculum and school experiences further foster intercultural understanding.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The Falmouth School Department has created a new Intercultural Awareness & Inclusion Committee to better support students, their families and the wider community. When “students feel valued … and safe to be who they are, their ability to learn is optimized,” says Gretchen McNulty, the district’s director of learning.

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