NEW ULM - Janet Keaveny, the new multicultural literacy instructor at Jefferson Elementary School, strums her guitar and sings out the kindergartners' names, as they pop up on the SmartBoard, operated by a kindergarten helper.
As the children settle down, she transitions into reading a book, this time, about different foods, then associates the text with, and leads a discussion of, diverse ethnic culinary traditions.
The kindergartners later complete an art project to demonstrate their understanding.
Fifth-graders at Washington Elementary School in New Ulm work in small groups in their CRIC class.
Pictured are Abbey Lee (back left), Makena Otto (back right), Taylor Forstner (front left) and Jenni Zender.
Keaveny, along with Washington Elementary School counterpart Barbara Jensen, is teaching in a revamped Cottonwood River Integration Collaborative (CRIC) program.
CRIC is group of ethnically divergent school districts striving to bridge a cultural and achievement gap among students of different backgrounds.
The group joins together relatively homogeneous districts, such as New Ulm, with more diverse ones, such as Sleepy Eye or St. James.
CRIC is mandated by state integration laws and funded with specific state allocations.
The CRIC program in the past few years had been implemented by introducing local students to Spanish.
This year, however, because of changes enacted by the legislature, CRIC is seeking to narrow the achievement gap between majority and minority students by implementing a new language arts curriculum.
"The overall Cottonwood River Integration Collaborative has the goal of enhancing student achievement in language arts by creating awareness, respect and appreciation of self and others, by helping students function in a global society for a lifetime, utilizing technology for both students and teachers," Keaveny, the Jefferson teacher, explained in a message to her Jefferson colleagues that she shared with the Journal.
A certified elementary teacher who has also taught children's literature at college level, she sees her students for an hour a week, teaching language arts and social studies concepts based on materials of a multicultural nature.
"The collaborative has chosen to focus on a different part of the world for three-four weeks at a time," explains Keaveny. "We began at home, learning about who we are and talking about families. We will move on to North America, Europe, East Asia, Africa, West Asia, the Middle East, Central and South America and Australia as the year progresses."
"The essential learner outcomes that I focus on are all related to the language arts or social studies standards for each grade level... Each session, there is usually at least one book selection and one oral story or poem that I share with the students. There is also an active component for students, incorporating reading, writing, or drama. These activities are measurable and provide data for me to use in report card grading."
In one example, during the month of November, the kindergartners have been learning about traditions. The children have identified occasions associated with traditions.
The stories so far have come from North America, explained Keaveny. The children heard about the northern lights, dream-catchers, Native American symbols, art and music. They will be "traveling" across the ocean to hear stories from Europe next, looking at maps and talking about travel.
With these youngest children, Keaveny worked on skills such as identifying central ideas, sequencing, vocabulary, story structure, point of view, cause and effect, comparing and contrasting, shared reading and writing, illustrations and use of a SmartBoard.
Keaveny modifies the approach to fit the older students.
Third-graders, for example, began the year talking about similarities and differences.
They talked about ancestors and relatives and families, wrote poems called "I Come From" and shared favorite places and foods and people... They brainstormed in small groups the things that families do together... They learned about melanin and how ancestors determine skin color...
Keaveny tries to stay in tune with classroom teachers, supplement their work, in some cases helping teach off of Jefferson's new reading series.
She would be working with the reading anthology portion in the series, "Treasures," with second and third graders, asking classroom teachers to include her in their planning if there is a component she can reinforce or re-teach.
At Washington, Jensen, a certified elementary teacher and reading specialist just three credits away from a master's degree, is seeking to enhance her students' language skills based on texts that are half non-fiction (expository) and half narrative. She incorporate a music and online components.
In line with CRIC's vision, her materials, of course, also enhance a global perspective.
Six-graders, for example, have learned what culture is and used a method, called SQ3R, to study a chapter is a World Cultures and Geography textbook.
In small groups, the sixth-graders learned immigration books and prepared a presentation on what they learned.
They are working on a graphic organizer in connection with a true story being read to students, 'Bridge to America."
The students are journaling as she reads the story, making predictions about how it will unfold.
The students are watching the movie "Fiddler on the Roof" to get a better idea of what life was like during the time of the novel.
Next, they will be using the SQ3R method to study another chapter in the World Cultures textbook, and learning about Germany in a Faces magazine.
In another example of Jensen's work, fifth-graders read the non-fiction book "The Last Princess: The Story of Princess Ka'iulani of Hawaii" and completed a cause-effect worksheet.
The fifth-graders did vocabulary work on the SmartBoard, and Jensen read the immigration story "Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story" to the class.
Students worked together to complete a cause and effect graphic organizer for the immigration story, developed a thesis statement and are working on a cause and effect essay.
Keaveny and Jensen also try to coordinate with other multicultural literacy instructors in CRIC, exchanging ideas and coordinating themes for units.
The teachers are hoping to plan some multi-cultural interaction experiences, through Skype, e-mail, old-fashioned letter-writing, following a blog or even face to face interactions.
"I am looking for ways to connect each class with people from a different culture. If you have anyone who would be willing to connect with students from Jefferson, please contact me," says Keaveny.
"My goal is to connect each class with a person or another classroom somewhere else in the world during the school year."