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Sikh News Sikh Culture In Maryland School Curriculum

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
A teaching package on Sikh culture, which was part of the social studies curriculum this year in eight elementary schools in Howard County, Maryland, will be incorporated into all of the county’s approximately 39 elementary schools in the next school year, a county education-official said.

Kaur Foundation’s Cultural Safari video and resource package, which was released in June 2008, was incorporated into the social studies curriculum by fall and is being used in the county’s eight pilot-schools.

Teaching packages normally end up sitting on the shelf because teachers just don’t have time to squeeze in additional lessons. It is only when new material is approved and incorporated into the curriculum that students see it in the classroom.

“I’m very happy to (say) teachers are using this resource,” said Florence Hu, principle of Centennial Lane Elementary, one of the pilot schools where Cultural Safari is being tested. “It shows the importance of diversity and of being respectful of other cultures.”

Howard County has a large minority population. About 30 percent of its students come from Asian countries, Hu said. “I really think the success of making sure that our school is a safe place is to be proactive of different cultures and to learn (about them) before they come (here).”

Last year, when the county’s curriculum office was revising certain units in social studies, and was looking for resources on diversity, Cultural Safari was there to fill the need. But that was no coincidence, it was a well thought-out plan, said Mirin Kaur Phool, the foundation’s president.

Kaur Foundation spent 18 months doing research before developing the package. It involved surveys of teachers and faculty on what they would like to know, and of Sikh students on what they would be known about them.

“Every line was not random, it was carefully structured to answer these questions,” Mirin Kaur said. The target audience was the schools. Information on Sikhi was presented in a manner that said everything and answered all their questions. “It’s a very fine walk to show everything and not get thrown out.”

Foundation representative began talking to county and state administrators as the package was being developed. When it was released, several administrators got their first look at the video at the foundation’s gala in June, an annual event with Sikh glitterati such as Fauja Singh and the Kaur twins as special guests.

“(They saw) that this was a savvy community, doing nice things, incredible things, at a level they are used to,” Mirin Kaur said. But the video spoke for itself.

“It was apparent when I saw the video it was very applicable to curriculum development,” said John Krownapple, cultural proficiency coordinator for the county’s public schools. Having it in the curriculum “made it instantly credible.”

Krownapple was the first to introduce the package at a meeting of a variety of education officials. Mirin Kaur made the presentation, beginning with the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first person killed in a 9/11-related hate crime, and ending with a discussion on the gap in cultural awareness. The curriculum coordinator, principals, and social studies superintendents were very interested, she said.

Foundation representatives for the county, Harsharan Kaur and Arvinder Kaur, are continuing the legwork with Mirin Kaur, going school to school to show the package to teachers, librarians and faculty.

The package will be incorporated into all of the county’s elementary schools in the fall, Krownapple said. But the county will also use it in other ways.

“The intended audience is students, but every adult I have shown it to has learned from it,” he added. The package will be used for professional development to help staff extend cultural awareness, included as a resource in school libraries and eventually included in a central cultural-databank.

Meanwhile, Kaur Foundation is looking beyond Howard County to the rest of the state. Foundation representatives presented Cultural Safari to the social studies coordinator at the Maryland Department of Education, Marcie Taylor-Thoma, last summer.

“It is a safe DVD for students to learn from,” Taylor-Thoma said. “The follow-up lessons use the DVD to talk about not only Sikhs, but also other cultures.“

She introduced the video at an education event in November with educators from many of the state’s 24 counties, and a social studies superintendants’ event in April. At least eight county education officials have asked Mirin Kaur to present it to their decision makers.

Outside Maryland, Sikh parents are showing the video at their kids’ schools, at multicultural cultural events and asking libraries to make it available to the public. From Rochester, N.Y., to Uba City, Calif., the foundation has sent out 2,000 videos at $15 each, with 1,000 more on the way, Mirin Kaur said.

Jatinder Singh Hundal of Roseville, Calif., used the video at his Khalsa school at the West Sacramento Gurdwara. All the parents wanted a copy, he said.

“I have three boys, 12 and 8-year-old twins,” he added. “They enjoy it and like mostly that there are no embarrassing moments when they see it with their friends.”


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