Dr. Kalise Wornum, RPS Families Discuss Becoming a Culturally Proficient Caregiver

Revere Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Lourenço Garcia is pleased to announce that a group of caregivers, community members and teachers recently engaged in a discussion on cultural proficiency with well-known speaker Dr. Kalise Wornum of KW Diversity, Inc.

Dr. Wornum, a nationally sought-after keynote speaker, educational leader, workshop facilitator, and author in the area of anti-racist education and cultural proficiency, led the December workshop that emphasized the importance of being open-minded and accepting when it comes to cultural proficiency.

“The minute we start talking to each other, we realize everybody brings something different to the table,” said Dr. Wornum. “If we're trying to be a more equitable school district, we all need to be on the same bus and learn from each other’s experiences, trauma or diversity.”

Using the National Education Association’s definition of ‘cultural proficiency,’ Dr. Wornum said, “It's the ability to successfully teach students who come from cultures other than their own. It entails developing certain personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities, developing certain bodies of cultural knowledge and mastering a set of skills that, taken together, underlie effective cross-cultural teaching.”

Dr. Wornum said that while she gets what the definition means, it doesn't tell us enough. To break down what we're really talking about, she pointed to the words of Ralph Ellison, author of the 1952 novel Invisible Man.

The Invisible Man reflects on the various ways in which the nameless main character has experienced social invisibility during his life and begins to tell his story.

“He wrote, “Show me how I can claim that which is real to me, while at the same time teaching me a way into the larger society. Then and only then will I sing your praises and help you to make the desert bear fruit,” said Dr. Wornum. “If the first thing we say to kids is to learn this, but we are not curious about who they are, then we're seeing them as a deficit instead of lifting them up. It has to be relationships before rigor. Relationships before rules. What does that demand of the educator? What does that demand of the teacher? What does that demand of you, the parent? It demands that we first see the child, understand the child and learn about the child before we can teach the child. We have to learn about the child in front of us.”

This strategy, Dr. Wornum argues, challenges us to be more curious about cultures other than our own. For educators, it’s natural to see students’ vulnerabilities and work with them to support their differences, but Dr. Wornum wants educators and caregivers to learn more and dig deeper into all the various cultures of students.

“The anatomy of an inequitable classroom is curriculum without windows and mirrors,” explained Dr. Wornum. “When our schools have a curriculum that does not have a window for students to see a world larger than themselves or a mirror for them to see themselves in the curriculum, it is not equitable. Every lesson you put in front of the child, you need to say, "This is for you, and I designed this for you.”

Dr. Garcia echoed Dr. Wornum and said, by nature, we are the place where we're born and raised and will carry that history and culture with us for the rest of our lives.

“We are a school system where you have close to 70% of students from different countries,” said Dr. Garcia. “So, it's our vision and our mission to build an environment that is diverse, that's anti-racist, and one that really understands where people come from and the history and culture they bring. The vision is to build a community of learners, a place that celebrates the culture around us and addresses inequities when we see them.”