When discussing diversity in the classroom, East Meadow Superintendent Kenneth Card often shares a memory that has been imprinted in his mind since he was 6 years old and moved to New York after emigrating from Belize City, Belize.
When Card enrolled in first grade, he said, his teacher asked his name, which was pronounced “Kennett.” She, however, told him to pronounce it as “Kenneth.” Now 53, Card said that the experience, however brief, has had an impact on the way he views his identity and his assimilation into American culture.
“We need to be mindful of kids who come from diverse backgrounds,” he said, and “help them transition in a way that doesn’t tell them that their way is deficient.”
February, Black History Month, can prompt dialogue about teaching diversity in the classroom, Card said. During this time, students often learn about the accomplishments of poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and elected leaders like Barrack Obama.
“This is usually set aside for some commemoration . . . and celebration,” Card said, adding that it is significant in helping African-American and black students know about the achievements of those from a similar cultural backgrounds.
For a school district to be culturally proficient, Card said, it must teach black history— and the history of all cultures— throughout the year. This is achievable, he added, not through single history lessons, but by integrating culture into daily lesson plans.
“I think that there’s been a paradigm shift in terms of thinking about these one-and-done classes to thinking about being culturally responsive in a classroom setting,” Card said, adding that a lesson on poetry could also be a history lesson on the cultural background of the poet. Rather than only focusing on Maya Angelou’s cultural background in February, teachers could weave it into poetry lessons during the year.
Card said that East Meadow is at the forefront of culture education. “From what I’ve seen so far, we do a good job of respecting the diversity that currently exists here,” he said. “We’re moving in the right direction, and I think we will continue to do that.”
He added that he has seen strong relationships between students and their teachers, extending beyond the subjects that they are being taught. “I’ve only been here for eight months, and that’s evident everywhere I go,” he said, adding that it starts when children are in kindergarten and see four cultural plays at the Tilles Center throughout the year.
Card began his education career at Harborfields Central School District as a social studies teacher from 1998 to 2002. After completing a doctorate in educational leadership and administration at Dowling College in 2008, he was appointed as the Huntington School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in August 2009.
Card was named East Meadow superintendent this April, at the recommendation of his predecessor, Leon Campo. Now, with 15 years of administrative experience on his resume, Card said that he feels confident that he will be able to lead the district in the right direction.
In addition to embracing diversity, he said that he also plans to strengthen the district’s social media presence. Currently, most East Meadow teachers use Twitter to let parents know what is happening in the classroom, as it happens.
“I get to see into a multitude of classrooms in this district without traveling to those schools,” Card said. Furthermore, the district recently submitted a smart bond application to get $4.1 million to go toward updating the district’s digital infrastructure and implementing the use of software like Google Classroom, in which students can access everything they need from a lesson on their computer.