World Citizens Transform New Jersey Classrooms
SCHOOL IS BACK IN SESSION. Do we know who is shaping our children's minds? New Jersey's cultural kaleidoscope is transforming classroom dynamics across the state. Will this year's crop of teachers convey information in ways that help will New Jersey students compete with the educations many of their classmates received in Port of Spain, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, or New Delhi? How will they fare? With what communications tools and networking strategies are teachers equipping students to excel in New Jersey workplaces where mangers and division-chiefs who hail from around the world will weigh in on the course of their career progression? How will they connect? Who is transitioning youth into the academic and corporate realities of a culturally transformed New Jersey as we cross the threshold into the second decade of the millennium?
Smita Saraswat, Bara Levitt, Gainwaite (Geeta) Mangal and "Rafiya," exemplary, motivated young women and New Jersey educators, inform and expand students' sensibilities and their range of cross-cultural experiences by quantum leaps as they step into their New Jersey classrooms. These women arrived in their Plainfield, Newark, North Plainfield, and Gloucester, New Jersey classrooms by way of Dubai, UAE, New Delhi, India, South Orange, NJ, West Bank Berbice, Guyana, and Kinshasha, Congo (Democratic Republic). In addition to their mastery of the subjects they teach, they are citizens of the world who represent the brightest and most dedicated minds in New Jersey's Indian, Jewish, Indo-Guyanese, and Congolese Diaspora communities.
New Jersey classrooms now reflect successive waves of newcomer-students from countries such as India, China, Russia, Poland, Nigeria, Liberia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Yet not long ago (2005) a study of NJ teachers and administrators in public and private schools* revealed that while teachers had, "a rhetorical understanding of important aspects of [their students' diverse] cultures," many didn't grasp the "how-to" of translating that knowledge into practice. Teacher-respondents could for example, identify communication and parent/teacher conferences as key to students' success, but wrestled with what strategies to use in basic intercultural exchanges with their students' parents. Teachers cannot convey what they themselves cannot fathom.
There are however, dazzling "points of light" sprinkled throughout NJ school systems; educators who are harbingers of healthy transformation. Smita Saraswat's classroom at East Side High School in Newark is evidence of how accelerated demographic change in New Jersey in the years since the 2005 study, has dramatically shifted NJ classroom dynamics to the advantage of students, the educational system, and the state. Ms. Saraswat, born in India, educated in Dubai, New Delhi, and Bloomington, Indiana teaches TV-video production to Portuguese, Brazilian, Mexican, Ecuadorian, African American and Cape Verdean students in Newark's East Ward known as the Ironbound.
In addition to gaining the technical expertise needed to express themselves through television production, Smita's students thrive in her openness to the totality of who they are. Ms. Saraswat's perspective stems from having spent one third of her life in a Hindu-dominated society (India), one third in the Islamic world (Dubai, UAE) and most recently, anchoring her family in the suburban hub, Secaucus. When students who represent a vast spectrum of cultural reference points enter Smita's classroom, they immediately sense that, far from erecting barriers, cultural difference can fuel a level of curiosity that builds a strong, eclectic community. Unconditional acceptance is a powerful catalyst for learning.