1.3 Million Students Have Access to Sikh Studies in Schools
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Reporting from Bethesda, Maryland - At least 1.3 million grade-school students have access to Sikh studies in public schools.
The Maryland-based Kaur Foundation’s “Cultural Safari” DVD and Teacher’s Hand Books are approved materials by school districts across the country, including in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Florida and California.
The Kaur Foundation was launched in 2002 as “an after-shock of 9/11,” said Mirin Kaur Phool, co-founder and president, at the organization’s fundraiser last month.
“The idea was to create awareness in schools and neighboring communities because, all of a sudden, we saw many Sikh Americans fall victim of post 9/11,” she said. “No community should be targeted, but we wanted to be sure that our kids were safe in schools.”
In 2009, the foundation released Sikh education toolkits – a DVD and lesson plans - that are now part of social studies curriculums for kindergarten through twelfth grades.
Through a partnership between parents, educators and administrators, more than 1.3 million students nationwide now have access to these Sikh studies toolkits.
“No one said no to us,” Mirin Kaur told SikhNN. “Everyone likes the materials.”
The toolkits are “a response to a national survey asking teachers and students what would you like to know about Sikhs,” said Janice Singh, director for education strategy, who wrote the Secondary Level Sikh Social Studies Unit Teacher’s Guide, with Rabindra Paul Singh. “The video became the heart of the program. But what to do if children just watch a movie? The learning is not complete.” The foundation then prepared the Teacher’s Hand Book.
“Once the children have spent 17 minutes watching the DVD, the teacher can then choose, according to her own time frame or his own time frame: Do I want to have a class discussion? Do I want the children to take a quiz? Do I want the children to go forward and do an Internet search and take this to the next level?
“Taken together, the two pieces, you have the Sikh social-studies program,” she said at the Bethesda fundraiser, to about 250 people.
According to the foundation’s Web site, the group developed two toolkits. The Teacher’s Resource Guide is the toolkit for elementary schools, and the Sikh Studies Unit is the toolkit for secondary schools. Both contain the “Cultural Safari” DVD, an elementary or secondary Teacher’s Hand Book, a Kaur Foundation brochure and letters to educators introducing materials and objectives of the program.
The Sacramento, California, education department was one of the latest to approve these toolkits for its schools last year. The decision impacted 235,000 students in three districts, Mirin Kaur told SikhNN.
Each toolkit costs $45, but the foundation sends them free to school systems, all of which are financially strapped in the economic downturn and will not pay for these resources, she said. The foundation is able to provide the toolkits through private funding from the Sikh community.
When a Sikh boy was bullied at a Harford County, Maryland, school at the beginning of the school year, the foundation reached out to teachers and administrators there, Mirin Kaur said.
“When something like this happens it becomes our focus,” she told SikhNN. The county is in the process of approving the toolkits for its schools.
Montgomery County, Maryland, also was one of the latest to approve the toolkits last year.
Mirin Kaur met with the county schools superintendents and the county council’s education committee, and “in a very short period of time, we have been able to move mountains to make sure that this curriculum that the Kaur Foundation has worked so diligently on for a long time will be in the Montgomery County public schools system, I hope this coming school year,” said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin. “We are pushing at the state level, we are trying to get a meeting with the governor.”
The Montgomery County decision came before the Oak Creak, Wisconsin, gurdwara shootings. “(But) the Wisconsin tragedy has brought a sense of urgency in the need for better education,” Mirin Kaur added.
State and local legislators, school administrators and educators praised the Sikh education resources at the fundraiser.
“Awareness bridges cultural proficiency with the understanding of the diversity of others,” said Marcie Taylor-Thoma, social studies supervisor at the Maryland State Department of Education. “Lack of understanding creates horrific hate crimes that are very difficult for reasonable citizens to understand.”
The foundation has developed “effective, interesting and assessable education materials for the schools’ use for understanding the diversity of others,” she said.
“We are still the only state that has a curriculum strand in social studies called Peoples of the Nation and World,” Taylor-Thoma said. “Every student in the state of Maryland, from pre-kindergarten through high school, is taught the values, concepts and ideas of many cultures. Multicultural education was mandated by law in the 1970s, and updated in 1994.”
As with many other states, multicultural guidelines establish goals that impact curriculum instruction, professional development and educational resources. They also provide criteria for the selection and use of instructional materials and resources that appropriately reflect cultural proficiency.
“And this is where the Kaur Foundation’s fabulous resources really assist us in Maryland,” she said. “I don’t know what we would do without the resource that they provide for us.”
“When we saw the “Cultural Safari” DVD explaining the Sikh culture, we were very impressed and embraced the goal of spreading the knowledge and awareness of the Sikh culture,” said Alice Reilly, social studies coordinator for the Fairfax County, Virginia, public schools. “The Kaur Foundation provided resources for 140 schools and presented to our teachers at all three levels - elementary, middle and secondary. These teachers welcomed the opportunity to learn about the Sikh culture, and received the resources that they could use in their instruction in the classroom.”
The foundation’s goal for 2013 is to partner with more parents, educators and administrators to reach 2.5 million public school students.