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Duncan Tonatiuh
Artwork from Duncan Tonatiuh's book, "Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation." Photo courtesy of Duncan Tonatiuh/Abrams Books for Young Readers
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Del Mar schools look to ethnic ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’

DEL MAR – Del Mar Union Elementary School District administrators touted efforts focusing on “diversity, equity and inclusion” at the school board’s Jan. 27 meeting, though the district’s ethnic diversity looks much different than other North County cities’.

“One of our very intentional focus areas this year is … to ensure an inclusive environment for all children and adults by collectively confronting and preventing prejudice, racism and discrimination,” Assistant Superintendent Shelley Petersen told school board trustees.

“Teachers are creating intentional learning opportunities … to start age-appropriate conversations with our children,” she said.

For example, one teacher asked students to respond to a photograph of the Arkansas National Guard overseeing racial integration at Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

“She might feel scared,” wrote one Del Mar student about one of the “Little Rock Nine.”

Del Mar elementary schools’ diversity is skewed compared to North County as a whole. Note that “Hispanic” isn’t a racial category meaning “brown;” Hispanics may have any skin color. Data source: Cal. Dept. of Ed. Graphic by Dan Brendel

“Additionally, many PTAs have taken steps to support libraries that include books representing a more diverse community, as well as books with lessons that can be used as conversation starters within our classrooms,” Petersen said.

Titles include, for example, “Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation,” by Duncan Tonatiuh; “The Name Jar,” by Yangsook Choi; and “Hair Love,” by Matthew Cherry.

In a similar vein, administrators briefed intentions to beef up Spanish immersion classes.

“The key feature of the Spanish language immersion program is to really to foster cultural intelligence … so they’re able to relate and work effectively across these cultures,” said Kindergarten Spanish teacher Vickie Anderson.

“One of my favorite activities … that we engaged in this year so far has been [discussing] ‘Living on [One Dollar],’” a documentary film about poverty in Guatemala, said sixth-grade Spanish teacher Andrew Burke. “Students were able to describe what a good and bad day looks like for themselves here in the U.S. versus what a good or bad day might look like in Guatemala. … I was incredibly humbled and impressed by [the students’] sense of identifying with what someone might be going through, putting on their shoes for a second.”

Data source: Cal. Dept. of Ed. Graphic by Dan Brendel.

While far from monochromatic, most of Del Mar’s school diversity, whether approximated by reported ethnicity or the native language of English learners, owes to students of Asian/Pacific descent rather than Hispanic descent. That’s according to The Coast News’ analysis of the most recently published enrollment data from the California Department of Education.

Del Mar doesn’t have the highest proportion of white K-6 children among North County districts. But it does have the lowest proportion of Hispanic children and the second-lowest proportion of Spanish-speaking English learners.

Hispanics and Spanish-speaking English learners account for about one-half and one-fifth, respectively, of North’s County aggregate K-6 student population. By comparison, those groups account for 11% and 2%, respectively, of Del Mar’s student body.

One factor contributing to this skewing is “choice,” said Assistant Superintendent Jason Romero. “Where you live and what schools you send your children to are very personal family decisions. It could be that families choose to live where people of similar backgrounds reside.”

School board trustees did not respond to requests for comment.

Top photo: Excerpt from SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL by Duncan Tonatiuh. Text copyright © 2014 Duncan Tonatiuh. Illustrations copyright © 2014 Duncan Tonatiuh. By permission of Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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