Leilani Keys receives Diversity Educator of the Year Walking the Walk Award

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – In what is believed to be a first for the nation, Albemarle County Public Schools has certified its inaugural class of Culturally Responsive Teachers.

Hollymead Elementary’s Rebecca Brown, Dr. Sherica Jones-Lewis from Burley Middle School, Mariel Mendez of Stony Point Elementary; and Leslie Wills-Taylor from Woodbrook Elementary all received their certifications at the school division’s 2016 Diversity Conference, held earlier this month at Monticello High School.

Culturally Responsive Teaching is a program that began in Albemarle County Public Schools in 2009. It consists of strategies and practices that more closely connect curricula with student backgrounds and experiences. In a school division where families speak more than 90 different native languages, the program is designed to broaden teaching skills to reflect the diverse backgrounds and experiences of all students.

“Our objective is to enhance our abilities to serve the learning needs of our rapidly evolving student populations and communities. As an example of this challenge, in 2015, our ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) student population grew at a seven percent annual rate, more than three times the rate for all students,” said Dr. Bernard Hairston, the division’s Director of Community Engagement.

“Our model,” Dr. Hairston noted, “is about teaching to and through the background and experience of our students. We emphasize the importance of relevance to content, which increases student engagement, resulting in motivating students to own their learning.”

Each of the school division’s 26 schools has at least one Diversity Resource Teacher, Dr. Hairston said, and that educator serves as a role model for their colleagues. Teachers learn how to utilize the unique life experiences of every one of their students in their lesson planning and instructional methods.

To obtain their culturally responsive teacher certification, candidates must demonstrate how they used the influence of a student’s culture to improve overall academic achievement in the classroom. They are required to show progress in how they designed and applied culturally relevant instructional strategies. Finally, they are asked to provide evidence of how they include family beliefs and traditions to create more choice, comfort, and learning relevance for students, all with the goal of closing student achievement gaps.

A total of 54 teachers from throughout the school division attended the conference. Leilani Keys of Albemarle High School received the division’s “Diversity Educator of the Year Walking the Walk Award” as a teacher and division leader, Dr. Hairston said.

The school division’s equity education policy requires professional development opportunities for all staff on equity and diversity; the tracking of existing disparities; and the establishment of an Equity Advisory Committee to review and recommend strategies for how best to evaluate the effectiveness of current policies and procedures.