AllentownSchool District

Jefferson Teacher Brings Multicultural Education from Conference to Classroom

Jefferson Teacher Brings Multicultural Education from Conference to Classroom
Posted on 04/19/2018

Jefferson Elementary School teacher Dawn Ackerman has spent her teaching career in urban environments and the last 12 years within the Allentown School District. Her unique approach to creating a classroom conducive to multicultural learning did not go unnoticed this fall, when her student teacher (from Kutztown University) invited her professor to observe the class. Dr. Sandy Chambers, was observing the KU student, but recognized a special approach in Ackerman’s teaching. Dr. Chambers suggested that Ackerman submit a proposal for an upcoming conference, and guided her through the process. 

The Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) Conference was held over two day period in March at Drexel University. The theme of the conference was “The Collective Struggle for Social Justice,” and celebrated the 20 year anniversary of the organization.

While many of the speakers discussed multiculturalism and teaching methods for higher education, Ackerman led one of the few breakout sessions that tackled an approach for K-12. The breakout session was on the topic of “Building a Community of Social Justice, Equality and Respect in My Urban, Multicultural Classroom: My Journey, My Kids, Our Reality.”

Working with many student teachers over the years, she wanted to share her first-hand experience in urban classrooms to better prepare them for their own teaching careers.  In addition to her presentation, Ackerman actively participated in other breakout sessions and panels at the conference. Much of what is in practice in the Allentown School District when it comes to addressing our diverse population was supported by research presented at the conference. She noted many of the techniques used in urban districts (such as large-scale data collection) closely matches the path that Allentown is currently moving toward.  

“Listening to experts in the field gave me the confidence that Jefferson and the District are on the right track, and even ahead of the curve in some instances, when it comes to addressing the needs of our multicultural students,” said Ackerman. For example, Ackerman now co-teaches her class, which consists of almost 20 English Language Learners, with a certified ESOL teacher. This fosters a collaborative environment, where students grow their English Language acquisition skills, while remaining in the classroom with their peers and receive grade level content in all subjects.  

Ackerman believes that the community that has been created by her fellow teacher colleagues, and supported by leadership at Jefferson, fosters an environment where families feel welcome, no matter their background. “From the Principal (Christin Adams) to the support staff, there is a conscious effort to familiarize ourselves with the various cultural backgrounds that make up our student body,” said Ackerman. “Not only do we approach student education from a cultural perspective, but in an urban environment, we connect our families with resources they need to be successful in and out of school,” she added.

As a veteran teacher, she hopes to mentor younger teachers at Jefferson, but also future student teachers she may get through the KU program. “Teachers should always be thinking of how they can bring a multicultural perspective into the classroom, relate to their culture and how they can best meet the socioemotional needs of their students,” she said.

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