ERIC Identifier: ED390018
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Sanchez, William - And Others
Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., American
Psychological Association Washington DC.
Working with Diverse Learners and School Staff in a
Multicultural Society. ERIC Digest.
With the rapidly changing population demographics of the United States and
the significant growth of diverse multicultural groups, schools and
professionals are being challenged as to how to provide the best comprehensive
educational and support services to their increasingly diverse student
population. The changes between 1980 and 1990 have been dramatic. The growth
rates within this time span range from approximately 13 percent for African
Americans to 108 percent for Asian Americans (Sue, 1991). It is estimated that
by the turn of the century, approximately 30 percent of the United States
population will be from a racial/ethnic minority group (Office of Ethnic
Minority Affairs, 1995).
The increasing diversity within the schools is also demonstrated by the
higher visibility of other groups of diverse learners, including, but not
limited to, children with disabilities, children and families identified with
the deaf culture, and gay and lesbian youth.
The challenges in working with an ever growing pluralistic school population
encompass many areas. The provision of relevant multicultural curriculums, the
use of culturally sensitive assessment and intervention strategies, the training
of school staff in the provision of these services, the recruitment and
retention of multicultural and diverse professionals, and the integration of
diverse communities and parents in an authentic and empowering manner are only a
few of the critical issues facing those working with today's students.
Professionals are also challenged by the need to consider the impact of complex
social/environmental problems, which in many contexts have negative consequences
for children from various racial/ethnic and social class backgrounds. Only a few
of these major issues will be highlighted.
THE TRAINING OF CULTURALLY SENSITIVE PROFESSIONALS
there has clearly been a greater recognition of the need for training in
multicultural competence across professions, many programs still conceptualize
this training as more of an "add-on"; that is, programs require only one or two
courses for their particular professional specialty. This is in contrast to a
more comprehensive and integrated "paradigm shift" in the teaching of all
helping professional courses (Nuttall, Sanchez, & Webber, in press).
The training of school staff and other related professionals can be
conceptualized by using a model that emphasizes three major components:
awareness, knowledge, and skills (Sue, Arredondo & McDavis, 1992; Sue et
al., 1982). The awareness component involves professionals examining their own
values, myths, stereotypes, and world view. Knowledge entails developing a
non-stereotyping, flexible understanding of cultural, social, and family
dynamics of diverse groups, along with a comprehension of the critical
sociopolitical, historical, and economic contexts in which people from diverse
multicultural groups are embedded. Skills require the development of culturally
sensitive, flexible, and empowering treatment and assessment strategies that are
accompanied by communication skills, the integration of multicultural and
diversity issues in various treatment modalities, multicultural consultation,
and advocacy skills.
Depending on the school, staff, and community context, flexible training can
take place on many levels, such as formal multicultural issues course work,
in-service training, long-term consultation and analysis, multicultural program
development, and reciprocal relationships with the surrounding multicultural
A MODEL FOR SERVING DIVERSE LEARNERS
A useful model that
allows for the integration of many of these critical variables is the Ecological
Model developed by Bronfenbrenner (1979) and enhanced by others (Knoff, 1986;
Nuttall, Romero, & Kalesnik, 1992). According to this model, we try to
understand or evaluate a student (the microsystem) in the context of his/her
mesosystems (immediate family, extended family, friends, network), macrosystems
(culture or subculture), and exosystems (social structures).
This model places the diverse learner, school staff, and parents/community in
an ecological context, which then allows both for a broader understanding of the
critical issues affecting students from diverse backgrounds and the development
of relevant service and educational models. These educational models need to be
highly sensitive to the particular community and social contexts of which the
diverse learners and school staff are members.
For the diverse learner and the school staff, the ability to conceptualize
and integrate culture and issues of diversity within a developmental perspective
is also crucial, given the changes in developmental tasks at each life stage and
the various ways that these "tasks" are expressed and resolved within various
cultural groups (Lee, 1995). Relevant to the diverse learner in schools, these
issues must be integrated within the specialized early intervention programs
offered to children with developmental issues (Lynch & Hanson, 1992). Early
intervention services are an extremely important part of the total, life-stage
conceptualization for low income, diverse learners because such learners are
more vulnerable to developmental concerns.
CULTURALLY SENSITIVE ASSESSMENT AND TREATMENT
Through the development of multicultural competencies within the
areas of awareness, knowledge, and skills, the probability increases of
psychologists using assessment and treatment strategies that meet the needs of a
wide range of culturally diverse groups.
The need for flexible and culturally sensitive assessment techniques has
continued to be stressed by many in the field (Facundo, Nuttall, Walton, 1994;
Nuttall, Sanchez, Borras, Nuttall, & Varvogli, in press). Examinations of
the critical features in assessment should include the sociocultural context of
the diverse learner and his family, the sociocultural background of the
examiner, such as issues of awareness of biases and stereotypes, and the
selection of appropriate testing, interview, and survey instruments. All of
these measures enhance the possibility of more relevant and culturally sensitive
assessments. Furthermore, the consideration of issues related to language and
its complexities is another major factor in providing relevant and meaningful
The need for changes in the conceptualization of children's abilities and how
skills are assessed, particularly with diverse learners, has also led to
strategies that focus on problem-solving abilities. Maker, Nielson, and Rogers
(1994) described the need for change in assessments within a diverse school
settings, including the assessments of students who are to be considered
"gifted." The authors presented various assessment programs that rely on
Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (1983) and they provided an analysis
of problem-solving strategies for individual children. These procedures stress
the process of problem solving and they offer an examination of each child's
pattern of multiple intelligences in an attempt to get away from the more
traditional and, at times, rigid analyses based on formal intelligence and
skills testing. Likewise, the model of Maker, Nielson, and Rogers (1994) has
great implications for the assessment of children of all levels and children
from diverse backgrounds. Their model allows for individual analyses of
children's particular problem-solving style and strengths, which are then
encouraged, while areas for remediation are addressed.
Intervention strategies also need to incorporate the critical issues of
culture and social context. Works on specific cultural groups, such as Lock
(1995) on interventions with African American youth, Jackson (1995) on
counseling youth of Arab Ancestry, Thomason (1995) on counseling Native American
clients, Zapata (1995) on working with Latinos, and Yagi & Oh (1995) on
interventions with Asian American youth, provide valuable guidelines on working
with specific populations and serve to increase awareness of the specific
cultural factors relevant to that particular cultural group. Awareness of, and
the ability to assess, specific factors such as acculturation, language
proficiency (including guidelines on the use of translators), and sociocultural
history, further enhances the provision of culturally affirming treatment
strategies (Paniagua, 1994; Vazquez Nuttall, DeLeon, & Valle, 1990).
The need to deal with diverse groups must also include work with gay and
lesbian youth (LaFontaine, 1994) and youth with disabilities (Sanchez, in
press), particularly as we proceed with educational inclusion models which are
further enhancing the diversity presented within school systems.
TRAINING STUDENTS TO BE CULTURALLY SENSITIVE
changing composition of today's student population, the need to provide
educational programs that address the complex issues related to multiculturalism
and diversity is becoming more and more evident. Schools and educators must
begin to develop curriculums that integrate awareness, knowledge, and skills
within educational materials. It is critical that diversity and multiculturalism
not be conceived as being accomplished by adding a course, a lecture, or a
one-day "multicultural fair." A total curriculum transformation needs to take
place where the critical issues of diversity and multiculturalism are integrated
into all aspects of students' academic achievement, social skills development,
and relationship with the community at large.
An example of such an attempt is the work of one of the authors (Li, 1993,
1994) who developed a psycho-educational course to help students increase their
self-awareness, acceptance and appreciation of the self and others, and
communication skills. The course was tried in two multicultural schools and in
one school comprised mainly of minority children. The response from the students
and teachers of both regular and special education classrooms was positive. They
noticed the nurturing climate developed through the course.
The opportunity for children to begin to integrate into their lives issues
related to multiculturalism and diversity is vital to the development of
acceptance and respect for others from diverse backgrounds. Along with
traditional educational models that present historical and social information
about people from diverse backgrounds, the creation of models that stress the
development of awareness and cultural sensitivity skills needs to take place
(Omizo & D'Andrea, 1995). Under this general category of enhancing
multicultural awareness and respect for diversity is the critical need for
confronting issues of racism and prejudice. The need for direct discussion and
exploration of these issues within schools needs to be conceptualized as another
critical element of the work done by those involved with the diverse learner
within multicultural settings (Ponterotto & Pedersen, 1993).
INVOLVING PARENTS AND COMMUNITY AS AUTHENTIC
Another major component in working with diverse learners is
that of establishing "authentic" relationships with parents and the community.
This is a critical element of any effort directed towards increasing
multicultural understanding and the development of a truly pluralistic school
and community environment. To become actively involved in school is hard for
immigrant parents who are not familiar with American school systems. Workshops
on American schools including structure, rules, services, and the rights and
responsibilities of parents and children are found to be helpful, even
empowering, to these parents.
The need for direct work with parents and communities has been stressed by
Atkinson and Juntunen (1994): "... school personnel must function as a
school-home-community liaison, as an interface between school and home, school
and community, and home and community" (p. 108). Casas & Furlong (1994),
writing with regards to Hispanic parents, but offering ideas clearly applicable
to other multicultural groups, stress the advocacy role of school counselors
both to "...increase parent participation and facilitate the increase
empowerment..." (p. 121) of parents and the community. This is a critical role
that needs to be taken on not just by school counselors, but by all school staff
working with diverse learners in an increasingly multicultural environment.
Learners from diverse multicultural groups,
children with disabilities, and gay and lesbian youth will continue to present
challenges to schools and those providing educational and support services. The
development of educational curriculums that enhance awareness, knowledge, and
skills for students is vital if schools are to provide culturally relevant,
respectful, and affirming teaching environments. To that end, the development of
culturally sensitive assessment and intervention strategies, multicultural
consultation, and professional training needs to take place. Structured along
the lines of awareness, knowledge, and skills development, such actions will
enhance diversity within the school environment. The diverse student and
community can be conceptualized as a wonderful and exciting element of the world
we live in, and not as a hindrance to the educational process. The authentic
involvement of parents as active and empowered members of the school community
will link school staff with the diverse learner, further increasing and
affirming cultural diversity within our school settings.
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