School officials see need to increase cultural awareness

BEACON FALLS — School officials are planning workshops in an effort to increase cultural awareness among students at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in response to culturally-insensitive incidents.

“We want to make our kids more cultural-sensitive,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said. “We want them to be respectful of their peers. And, we’re going to try to bring the parents in, the staff in, the students, so it’s a whole-school approach.”

A workshop, entitled “Promoting social awareness and respecting others’ differences,” for parents is scheduled for March 30 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the school, 30 Highland Ave. Edward Joyner will present the workshop.

Joyner is a member of the New Haven Board of Education. According to his biography on the New Haven public schools’ website, Joyner has worked as a principal and assistant principal at the high and middle school levels. He was also an assistant professor and administrator at the Yale Child Study Center, according to the bio.

Joyner, who retired from Sacred Heart University in 2013 where he had served as the director of the Five Year Masters of Arts in Education program, has presented throughout the world and trained educators and social policy makers throughout the United States, the bio states.

Laurel Ledge is the only school in Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, where workshops are planned. Officials said they saw a need to hold the workshops at the school following some incidents involving students not being sensitive to other children’s ethnicity, race and special needs.

“We’ve had a couple of instances of insensitivity to other students and we take these matters very seriously,” Laurel Ledge Principal Regina Murzak said.

Yamin said the safe school climate committee recognized the student population is changing, and the workshops are an effort to be proactive.

“As we’ve seen a little bit of shift in our population, we want to make sure our kids are culturally-aware,” he said.

According to the school profile for Laurel Ledge on the state Department of Education’s website, as of Oct. 1, 2015, the most recent figures available on the website, 85 percent of the school’s 380 students at the time were white. Nearly 8 percent of students were Hispanic or Latino and 3.2 percent were black, according to profile. Nearly 16 percent of the students were classified as students with disabilities, according to the profile.

Officials didn’t go into specifics on the incidents at the school. Yamin said they involved disciplinary issues, but none of the incidents were physical in nature.

Along with the parent workshop, a workshop for teachers will be held next week, Murzak said. She said the school is also working with students in the Woodland Regional High School National Honor Society to come and speak to students at Laurel Ledge.

The cost for the workshops is $5,000, which will be paid for with federal funds through the region’s Title I grant, Yamin said.

Childcare and food will be provided for children of parents attending next week’s workshops. Parents interested in attending are asked to register. Murzak said information on the workshop and online registration is available on Schoology. Parents can also call the school at 203-729-5355.

“My hope is as many parents as possible will take advantage of it and join us,” Murzak said.