Cultural Competency and Meaningful Student Involvement

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Cultural competency is the root within schools that allows them to embrace, enrich and promote students’ senses of ownership, agency and belonging through Meaningful Student Involvement.

What It Is

More than just acknowledging diversity, cultural competence can include acknowledging, accepting, embracing and empowering differences between and among students, students and educators, and the school and the larger community. Meaningful Student Involvement can put those steps into action as students learn the enthusiasm and energy education can possess.

Culture is anything and everything that makes up the parts of a person’s entire way of living. Culture is organized into groups, including a person’s geographic location, political identification, sexual orientation, familial makeup, friends, religion, jobs, and AGE. Age is a cultural group because of the traits shared among different age groups throughout society.

Ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia are all rooted in these cultural realities. Adultism, which is bias towards adults, is rooted in our cultural realities, too.

In order to successfully, meaningfully and wholly engage children and youth anywhere, anytime for any reason, adults have to confront our bias towards adults, and the consequence of that: discrimination against young people. The question of becoming aware of the culture of young people is at the very core of Meaningful Student Involvement for a lot of reasons.

For all that schools continue expanding Euro-awareness of the value of indigenous culture and the culture of people of color; for the cultural expansion towards equitable roles between women and men; for the upsurging awareness of the equal rights of GBLTQQ folks; we’re missing a key element in these conversations, and that’s the cultural shoehorn known as children and youth.

Students in schools have a distinct and unique culture among themselves for many reasons, not the least of which being the routine and systematic segregation of them from society by adults. The culture of students is almost wholly and constantly neglected, denied and dismissed by adults. They are actually and actively repressed, consequently fostering adultism and the adultcentric nature of schools and homes and businesses and government and much more.

That’s why cultural awareness is at the middle of what SoundOut does. From our perceptions, we’re talking about human rights, and the distinct right students should have to be themselves. Schools can and must embrace this in order to see the future for all it can hold…

What It Does

Successful schools that combine these approaches might have:

  • Elective courses designed by students from diverse backgrounds, such as Combating Intolerance
  • Peer mediation that allows students from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to guide other students as they talk about potentially divisive issues
  • Student-driven clubs that help students retain cultural identity (e.g., Muslim Student Society)
  • A committee for the families of students of color that organizes evenings for their parents to come to school in smaller groups and learn about the college admissions process, SAT prep classes, scholarship and grant opportunities, etc.
  • Open communication with students, led by students
  • Establishment of programs in the first languages of students


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