By Madeline Egan
On October 13th, I attended the “Socio-Economic Docu-Drama,” a workshop intended for students in Professor Cathy Sinnott’s Health Problems of the Underserved (HLH 201) course. Even though this workshop was for a health course, it was beneficial for any teaching major – like me. The goal of the docu-drama was for participants to identify health-related challenges that low-income people face. This event was a great visual for students in the education field because they could experience situations that may come up in the classroom or their field. Even though this was a health driven workshop and the dialogue included medical based scenarios, as a special education major, it was simple for me to connect all the material to the classroom.
In the drama’s hospital scene (captioned “culture-based expectations”), a patient was given an injury-care pamphlet written in Spanish. The doctor assumed that, because the patient was from Mexico, he spoke Spanish, but the patient actually spoke Meztik, an indigenous language in Mexico. It is important to know your patients and not assume based on race or ethnicity. In the classroom, it is important that you know the cultural background of all your students, so that you can apply culturally relevant teaching. This workshop acted as a reinforcement that showed multiple examples of why culturally relevant teaching is important in the classroom.
During my field placement at Dr. King Elementary, in Syracuse, it was common to have a classroom with a student who was from a different country. As the school’s principal told the SUNY Cortland service-learning volunteers, Syracuse is among the biggest refugee centers in America; of the students who attend Dr. King Elementary School, an estimated 37% are refugees. In my classroom specifically there was one student from Somalia. She wore traditional Somalia clothing, including a guntiino and a scarf or wrap covering her head.
I realized that the children’s classmates should also be aware of the background of their peers. If my students understand and accept what the scarf and guntiino is and why it is a tradition in the Somalia culture, they can better connect with their classmate. Accepting cultural backgrounds establishes trust and community in the classroom.
People have a hard time accepting things that are different, that is why it is important to establish this understanding right off the bat.
Another crucial scene for me was, “Home: A Return to Internal Toxins.” In this scene, our main character, 13-year-old Sarah, introduces a new food, zucchini, to her mother. Regarding health, it is important to realize that some families can either not afford healthy food or do not have access to healthy food; therefore obesity is more frequent in families of low-income. From the classroom perspective, you need to know that some students don’t receive proper nutrition, which may hinder their academic success. At Dr. King, free breakfast was offered to close to all of the students. When free meals are offered in a school, you can assume that the families of the students are unable to provide the proper foods in order for their child to succeed. Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, and while observing I have drawn the same conclusion. I noticed that when students had their heads down in the morning or weren’t participating, it was because they didn’t have breakfast. Another concept to take into account is cultural capital.
It is clear that Sarah and her mother lack cultural capital; they lack cultural knowledge, based on the clear fact that they have never heard of the word zucchini. Looking further from the word zucchini, as a future educator or current teacher, you need to realize that your students have a wide range of access to material and knowledge, with some people’s knowledge being more limited than others’. At Dr. King Elementary, lack of cultural capital was a more obvious case. I prepared myself to take into account the troubles my students might face. For example, I never referenced stores or devices that I thought they wouldn’t be able to relate to, and if I did, I explained in detail my reference. You might be accustomed to eating zucchini as a part of your meal, but students living in a low-income community might not have the cultural capital to experience the same level of living you are acquainted with.