Daring students to be different [UPDATED]Published 10:54am Tuesday, November 13, 2012 Updated 11:01am Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Kids and teens want to feel accepted by their peers. Sometimes that means blending in. But how do you blend in when your heritage is from another country, you may look and sound different than everyone else, and have different customs?
Amy Buck, Otter Tail County’s Multi-District Cultural Collaborative Coordinator based in Pelican Rapids, encourages students to celebrate differences, and discover different cultures in our community.
During a welcome session, Buck asks visiting students to introduce themselves and share three things about themselves. She goes first.
“Hello, my name is Amy Lee Buck, and I am a Korean adoptee,” said Buck. “I came from Korea when I was a year old and adopted by a white family.”
After her introduction Buck explains that “I bet no one here thought of introducing themselves as white.”
“We are often told to be ‘colorblind’ and treat everyone the same,” said Buck. “While we all have similarities, all of the ethnic students here would include their cultural background in a description of themselves. We don’t want students to ignore this, but to be ‘full color’ and recognize what these differences mean.”
Pelican Rapids is considered a “racially isolated” school district because more than 20 percent of the student population is from immigrant families, including Mexican and Somali. Buck works to raise awareness among the student population in Pelican Rapids, and throughout the nine school districts in Otter Tail County.
One example included a cultural day in Pelican Rapids, including students from other schools in the county. After introductions, students visited the Somali market in town, with a presentation by three Somali students that explained the basics of their culture, including Hijab, a veil which covers a Muslim woman’s hair and neck, particularly in the presence of non-related adult males. The students shared that beyond the clothing, hijab has a wider meaning of modesty, privacy and morality in their culture.
In the market, students learned what is halal, or acceptable foods in the Islamic culture, or haram, those foods that are forbidden such as pork and alcohol, and why.
Kassandra Sanchez was one of the presenters at the Mexican grocery. She moved to the area from California when she was five because her family had relatives here, and there was work. It is typical for cultural pockets to exist in areas such as Pelican Rapids where an industry creates jobs that are not desirable for the existing population. In Pelican Rapids, the poultry processing plant has drawn people of different cultures from outside the community. Sanchez’s presentation covered what it felt like to be stuck between two cultures.
Later in the day there was a panel discussion at school that included immigrant students answering questions like “Do you think you have ever been racially profiled,” and “Is it hard to make friends because of your race?”
Buck emphasizes that county’s cultural collaboration is not only intended to draw students to Pelican Rapids. Programs are scheduled county wide, including support of the African drumming workshop last week at Roosevelt Learning Center, and other opportunities that give students exposure to other cultures, such as a diversity cookbook that was produced last year.
“It’s about spreading a message of unity and diversity,” said Buck. “Our ethnic students have a voice. Their culture is something unique about them, and no one else can tell their story better than them.”
In Otter Tail County, the integration aid that funds the multi-district cultural collaborative is administered by Lakes Country Service Cooperative.
Currently, Minnesota spends $108 million in integration aid appropriated by the state legislature. Programs vary from combating segregation to working on minimizing state’s achievement gap between white and nonwhite students. However, a task force’s recommendations for on-going program implementation were not adopted by the Legislature this session, leaving integration funding in limbo for roughly 137 schools.
“We know we’ll have a program next year,” said Buck. “We just don’t know what form that program will take.”
Amy Buck is an exuberant person that is passionate about integration initiatives. As the only Asian-American in school while growing up in Richville, she feels uniquely connected to the mission of her position.
“It’s okay to be different,” said Buck. “Diversity is beautiful.”