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As we begin another school year in the midst of a pandemic, there has been a great deal of focus on what occurs in our schools. Health and safety protocols have been part of heated debates, as has curriculum and issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a veteran educator with over two decades in K-12 and public higher education, I would like to clarify some of the misinformation being communicated about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), share how it is taught in my own classroom, and explain why this is such a crucial component of our children’s comprehensive education.

Equity (E) is about offering individualized support to students that address possible barriers to success. Equity has long been a part of our education system, most notably in special education. Equity in our schools includes IEP’s, 504 plans, English Language Learning (ELL), academic intervention services, early intervention, one on one aides, 12:1:1 classrooms, wheelchair ramps, and gifted programs. Tens of thousands of children across Long Island have benefited from this equity in our system, including mine.

Inclusion (I) is ensuring that every student feels a sense of belonging. In my choral music classroom, it is about eliminating any potential barrier to entry. Every student who wants to sing has the opportunity to do so, regardless of ability or experience. Students who don’t read music, who are English language learners, who are disabled, each of them is included, welcomed, and valued.

Diversity (D) is recognizing that each student is unique, and recognizing and celebrating these qualities. Diversity in my classroom refers to programming music from around the world alongside the works of Mozart, Vivaldi, and Bach. Doing so allows my students to see themselves reflected in the music they study and perform. When we study songs from South Africa, we examine history. We read passages from both Nelson Mandela and The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah about their experiences living under apartheid. We listen and watch South African youth choirs performing this music in the present day, Black and white together, which was inconceivable 40 years ago. We talk about how this is a vehicle to consider and grapple with the past, and reconcile the future.

DEI is a necessary component if we are to educate the next generation to understand the world around them. This is especially true on Long Island, which is one of the most segregated areas in the country. When our children graduate from high school, they need to be prepared for a world that is diverse in its makeup and thinking. Education can help to address the gap in understanding and context that is too often missing in our siloed enclaves.

I am proud to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion in my classroom. It creates a space where every child belongs, and where I learn as much, if not more, from the students I teach. Here’s to a healthy, safe, and equitable school year for all.

Shoshana Hershkowitz
South Setauket

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