After a fervent debate between board members Thursday night, Allentown School Board approved a cultural sensitivity training program for teachers at Luis A. Ramos Elementary School.
Allentown School District is focusing to address the cultural gap between teachers and students. In Ramos Elementary, 36 out of 40 teachers are white, while the student population are predominantly minorities.
The vote passed 7-2 with opposition on the comprehensive plan for the elementary school from board members Scott Armstrong and David F. Zimmerman.
The plan for Ramos is designed to improve the school by training teachers in how to better their students' academic results .
"This is a plan to focus administration, faculty and staff on our high expectations to improve student performance," stated Superintendent Russell Mayo.
Board member Ce-Ce Gerlach stated that being multi-culturally educated allows her to cater to her students that are Muslim, allowing them to be excused for prayer.
"I have to respect the diversity within my classroom. Different cultures have different challenges," Gerlach said. "The approach taken with different groups needs to be unique."
"A child who feels there's an attachment with his or her teacher is going to be a more successful learner," said board vice president Debra H. Lamb, who strongly supports the program. "This has to do with how we live on a day-to-day basis in our community and our families," she said, stating being aware of cultural diversity is how we continue to move forward with our constant change of American culture.
"Student cultures include, not only their ethnic background, but also their economic status, the conditions in which they live at home, the students in which they socialize… and a number of other factors," stated Mayo, adding that cultural sensitivity is only one of many strategies in order to connect with the students.
"What I don't like is this plan that leads us to believe there's a cultural gap between the teachers and the students and that's the reason they're doing so poorly in school," said Armstrong. Armstrong made a motion to table the vote, which did not pass by the board.
Zimmerman agreed with Armstrong, stating he was shocked this wasn't already implemented in the district. "I think we're going to still end up with the disparity, and the gap and the poor performance within the school," Zimmerman said.
The plan is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and had a deadline of Thursday, which concerned board president Robert E. Smith, feeling that there needs to be a two-month time period to review the comprehensive plans before deadline in the future.