Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Diversity Fair highlights knowledge of community

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Head Start head teacher David Sizemore reads with Marissa Lane (left) and Ciara Finley at the Hamilton County Educational Service Center in Forest Park.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
FOREST PARK - Last year, Hamilton County Educational Service Center's Head Start program decided to confront its need for more diversity and cultural understanding.

Now, the Head Start staff is sharing what they've learned with the community through a Diversity Fair.

The fair features food, music, arts and dance from various cultures: German, Japanese, Muslim, Afghan, Irish, Italian, African-American, American Indian and Latino.

Fliers will be distributed outlining traditions and celebrations from different cultures, along with communication do's and don'ts:

• Not all African-Americans know each other.

• Just because two people are speaking a foreign language doesn't mean they're talking about you.

• All Latinos are not from Mexico.

"A lot of times, people make mistakes without really knowing it's inappropriate to say certain things," said Doris A. Richard, program operations coordinator for Hamilton County Head Start.

What: Diversity Fair.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Kemper Heights Family Resource Center, 924 Waycross Road, Forest Park.
Cost: Free.
Information: 851-2899.
Head Start is a comprehensive early childhood education and development program for children from low-income families. In Hamilton County Head Start, 1,509 children are enrolled in 38 classrooms at 32 different sites. The program, which has a staff of 165, serves children from birth to age 5.

The Head Start staff took a look at diversity issues after hosting a Neighbor to Neighbor conversation in January 2002. The Enquirer initiated those conversations following the 2001 race riots, so people could discuss ways to ease racial tensions.

In addition, Head Start does an annual self-assessment. The program is seeing an influx of Latino families, along with some children from Asia and Africa. Two Head Start classrooms in Lockland Elementary have a number of children who speak French.

"We realized we had parents bringing children to our program, but because of the language barrier, we were basically providing custodial care," Richard said. "That forced us to say, 'What are we doing wrong?' One thing we needed to do was hire people of other cultures to communicate with children and parents." Two years ago, Head Start had no bilingual staff members. Now, it has five.

Head Start created a diversity committee of seven staff members and one parent in September 2002 to decide how to improve diversity. Besides hiring a more diverse staff, Head Start:

• Offers diversity training to staff.

"It's raising awareness and begins a dialogue," said Diana Pearson, associate director of Hamilton County Head Start. "People want to ask questions, but are afraid because someone from a different culture might be offended. We have created a climate where people are open about their questions and concerns."

• Showcases a different culture in the lobby at the Kemper Heights Family Resource Center, where Hamilton County Head Start is based.

"This has given us a visualization that we live in a world community, which is becoming increasingly smaller, enabling us to understand and accept diversity as an integral part of a healthy society," said David Sizemore, a teacher in the Hamilton County Head Start program, who lived in South and Central America over a span of 20 years.


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