Farah Sammouri-Agha positioned herself behind the podium. Looking out into an audience of more than 100 Sylvania educators, she implored them to understand the difficulties newly transplanted Muslim students are facing.
“Can you imagine the pressures they are facing?” said Mrs. Sammouri-Agha, the bilingual coordinator for the Sylvania School District said. “These kids are coming to a new country. Not only are they trying to integrate culturally, they are learning a new language and do well academically.”
Mrs. Sammouri-Agha taught a session entitled “To Be Muslim,” which was one of several cultural competency sessions held Monday at Northview High School that aimed to enlighten teachers on different cultures.
“Our student body is becoming more diverse,” Sylvania Superintendent Adam Fineske said. “So what we’re trying to do with our staff is talk about cultural competencies. Than means understanding folks with different religious backgrounds, different cultural backgrounds, and different needs that we’ve never seen before.”
While Sylvania’s student body remains predominantly white, there has been an uptick in its minority population over the past decade. In Sylvania, nearly 17 percent of students were minorities in the 2015-16 school year, compared to only 12 percent in 2006-07.
With the steady influx of minority students, Mr. Fineske said the district has taken steps to ensure they are efficiently adapting to the trend.
One of the biggest changes Sylvania has experienced is substantial growth in its English as a Second Language Program. The district’s ESL population increased from 79 students in 2007 to 189 in 2017. Seventy percent of those students speak Arabic, Mr. Fineske said.
Earlier this year, the Sylvania Board of Education renewed the contract of the district’s diversity recruitment specialist and doubled his salary from the previous year.
“The hope and goal was to make the district aware and to understand how diverse the district is and becoming,” said Bishop Chester Trail, the district’s diversity specialist.
Instead of students learning in classrooms, on Monday teachers bounced around different classrooms attending diversity sessions that addressed racial, religious, socioeconomic, sexual and cultural diversity.
Many teachers in attendance said the training was effective and that they will take what they learned and apply it in their classroom.
“I really enjoyed hearing the diverse opinions and stories that have been presented to us today,” said Mrs. Kristen Ireland, science teacher at Northview High School. “It’s been a good combination of self-reflection of your own personal story and where you come from as well as learning about other cultures and how to bring all those perspectives to the forefront when teaching students.”
Bishop Trail — who ministers in both Toledo and Fremont — said the district is devoted to educating its staff and parents about the importance of understanding different backgrounds.
“In a forum like this not only did we want to equip them with the knowledge and information but how to put any fears or apprehensions to rest,” he said. “We’re not waiting for things to happen and then react. We want to be a step ahead of the game.”
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