Culture Walk bridges the gap
September 16th, 2013
Omaha, NE– The University of Nebraska’s College of Education recently sponsored the fifth annual “Culture Walk” for UNO students seeking a major in teacher education.
The Culture Walk program is the brainchild of Sarah Edwards, chair of the teacher education department at UNO. The program was created to expose students to the various cultures they may encounter in their classrooms.
“We have to make sure we are modeling the kind of reflective thinking that teachers need to do,” Edwards said. “You get a job in a new neighborhood you have to get to know that neighborhood and the various communities in that neighborhood and so we created cultures walk as a way to walk our talk.”
According to Susan Mayberger, coordinator of ESL, Migrant and Refugee Education for Omaha Public Schools, more than 100 languages are spoken by students. There has also been a steady increase of students learning English as a second language. In the 2000-2001 school-year, there were 3,425 ESL students. In the 2012-2012 school-years there were more than 14,500 ESL students.
Connie Schaffer, assistant professor of the Teacher Education Department, says the culture walk instills confidence in students.
“We know that we have incredible racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in our schools and we also know that a teacher’s ability to form relationships is critical in terms of student achievement so we need to prepare our students to feel comfortable and be able to work with a variety of students so that those students can maximize their learning potential,” Schaffer said.
During the downtown culture walk, students had the opportunity to hear experiences from Nura Guleid, a Somalian woman; Helena Asherin, a Burmese refugee; and Netra Gurung, a Bhutanese man who spent 18 years in a Nepali refugee camp.
Guleid came to the United States in 1989 and settled in Omaha in 2001. She says events like the culture walk will help teachers assist foreign students in developing a better understanding of American culture. As a paraprofessional for OPS, she says it’s up to teachers to bridge the gap.
“We like to tell them what we know about the culture so they can learn and take this to their classes,”Guleid said.
Helena Asherin is a bilingual liaison for OPS. She came to Omaha in 2007 after living in a refugee camp in Thailand for many years. She says many people don’t realize that Karen is an ethnic group and not a woman’s first name.
“For me it’s like so people get to know cause when people talk especially about Karen people thought it was people’s name, but Karen is a people from Burma,” Asherin said.
Netra Gurung came to Omaha in 2010. He is a case worker for Southern Sudan Community Association. He hopes that sharing his experiences will lead to greater help for people settling in new communities.
“It’s very important to talk about our culture with different people,” Gurung said. “We have different language, different body language, everything is different. If they can understand then they can help us too.”
Student teacher Jeremy Cisco says the culture walks is an eye opening experience that helps people see that they can relate to a myriad of people.
“It’s a wonderful and valuable experience not just for us as incoming student teachers but also for the community,” Cisco said. If people could take part in something like this it’s a great experience and you gain a lot from it.”
In recognition of their fifth year, the College of Education and UNO’s Criss Library presents a collection of artifacts from previous culture walks. The exhibit is called, “From Apprehension to Appreciation: The Culture Walk Journey.” It runs until October 4.
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