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Researcher: Black students’ culture

After interviewing several high school students, Brenda Townsend, an associate professor in the Department of Education, came to the conclusion that blacks often feel overlooked in the classroom.

“Students feel they have to leave their culture at the door when they come to school,” Townsend said. “So they tune out because they don’t find much value (in what schools teach). Oftentimes, their culture never comes into play.”

The solution to this problem, Townsend said, was to instruct teachers on how to be more culturally aware in presenting their lessons.

After 12 months of planning and organizing, Townsend’s vision, a workshop called “Keepin’ it Real,” will be conducted next week in New York City as part of the Counsel for Exceptional Children Convention.

Fourteen children from the Tampa area, representing elementary, middle and high school age groups, will take part in the workshop and will depart by bus Monday morning from the College of Education Rotunda.

The workshop, which is sponsored by Center for Action Research on Urban Schools and Effective Leadership (CAROUSEL), will try to demonstrate that certain aspects of black culture, such as storytelling, rhythm and music, are effective when incorporated into a curriculum.

Townsend said in an episode of The Cosby Show this concept is addressed when Shakespearean plays are made into rap songs.

“Material is easier to teach when you can reach students through something they already know,” Townsend said. “A teacher could use rhythm to teach math facts. For very young children, you could use rhythm to teach counting. For things you want children to memorize, you could put it to music.”

Townsend said she thinks the lack of cultural representation that blacks experience in school may be a reason some students drop out or underachieve.

“When students feel that the way they talk and the way they walk doesn’t belong in school, what incentive do they have to keep going?” Townsend said.

But, Townsend said, this is true of all students, not just blacks. Townsend said the workshop will be completely interactive. “After presentations are made, educators, parents and children will all be able to discuss what they’ve heard.

“The children will be very involved and will be able to talk directly (to the educators),” Townsend said.

After the workshops, the students and their parents will tour New York City, taking in the Statue of Liberty, museums, Harlem and the site of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It is an educational experience,” Townsend said. “The students will be plotting on maps all the places they go and parents and children will be keeping journals.”

Angela Candis, PTA vice president at Franklin Middle School, said she’s excited to attend the workshop with her 13-year-old son.

“I’m looking forward to spending some time with my son,” she said. “I’m very curious to hear the information and see what we can bring back home.”

Monica Grimes, another parent who will be attending the workshop, said she also hopes to learn something she can use at home.

“For me, I want to learn something to make my children more responsive and to be able to interact with them more,” she said.