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Aurora forum spotlights diversity issues in schools, embracing difference

Aug 31, 2017
In The News

For Metea Valley High School Principal Darrell Echols, true diversity is something that schools still need to keep working on.

At an event at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora Wednesday that focused on diversity, Echols shared a story that shows how far society needs to go to truly embrace differences among people.

Echols said his grandson came home from school following the November presidential election and said that a student had told him to "go back to Mexico."

That type of behavior isn't unusual, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) said.

"The fight for a truly inclusive nation that embraces its diversity is not over and perhaps will never be," Foster told the crowd. "Those who promote hatred, bigotry and fear do not represent America and do not represent us."

Foster, along with state Reps. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) and Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), joined a panel of experts to discuss race relations in Aurora as part of a "Unity In Diversity" forum hosted by the Indian American Community Outreach Advisory Board and School District 204's Parent Diversity Advisory Council.

"The vibrant diversity of Aurora is one of the greatest features of this area," Foster said. "Unfortunately recent events in our nation make it as important as ever that we come together to reject the fear and divisiveness seeking to keep us apart."

Panelists and audience members threw out words like bullying, intolerance, ignorance, barriers and a lack of curiosity as adjectives to describe the state of cultural integration these days.

They spoke of their own experiences on the receiving end of hatred and bigotry.

A mother in attendance talked about the sometimes skewed ways in which cultures are represented in district textbooks.

"Curriculum is something we need to pay attention to as educators," she told the panel.

District 204 Superintendent Karen Sullivan said district educators are doing just that. She said the diversity of the district's workforce is also paramount to the success of inclusion.

"We're trying to recruit a diverse workforce so students see people who look like them in these (educator) positions," she said.

Teachers are also being trained to be culturally responsive, and to find ways to give students safe places to talk and express their feelings, she said.

"When you walk into a Metea Valley High School social studies class, these conversations (on diversity) are happening regularly," Echols said. "Our teachers do a great job of allowing kids to voice their concerns and their fears and feelings. When adults listen, students feel valued and safe."