The Importance of Diversifying the Classroom

By Rachel Jason

In response to the increased exposure in the media  of racism in the United States and around the world, two teachers from Garnet Valley High School have been working to make their classrooms more inclusive.

David Pimentel is a Social Studies teacher. Heather Arters is the grade 6-12 co-curriculum coordinator for the English department, performing arts director, acting, creative writing, and AP and grade 12 English teacher.

Both teachers have attempted to make their classrooms diverse and inclusive for all students of different backgrounds. 

Although the Social Studies curriculum is diverse, Mr. Pimentel and other teachers are continuing to diversify it. For example, they expanded the East Asia unit to include South East Asia. In the European History course, they added a thread of Latin America. 

“Is it perfect? No, but it is better,” Pimentel addresses. Additionally, Pimentel tries to highlight several women and the evolution of modern feminist thoughts in the west.

 “Something I have begun and encourage other teachers to do as well, is teaching a full week of Black history during Black History Month,” Pimentel says. “Regarding sexuality, although it is not in the curriculum, I attempt to create inclusion through small gestures such as allyship and ‘safe space’ stickers.” (Pimentel) 

Mrs. Arters looked at the macro view first, recalling her work with admin, a group of teachers, and students to create a curriculum for the entire district for global awareness. From a micro perspective, Arters has focused on the materials she uses in class. She has begun to include diverse voices, people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ in literature already in the curriculum to help students “see it through a different lens or point of view.” (Arters)

Furthermore, the English department has addressed racial inclusion and diversity. “Central admin wanted us to be cognizant of including windows and mirrors — allowing students to see themselves and allowing them to see cultures that they may not have been exposed to.”

Mr. Pimentel also mentioned that the Social Studies department created two new courses, African American Studies, and Women’s Studies.

It is important for teachers to educate themselves on a variety of topics other than school subjects. Mr. Pimentel educates himself about racial issues through a variety of resources. For example, the HERE club, diversifying his feed/selection of media, and working on a course to train teachers on cultural awareness. Also, as a history and media teacher and simply a movie lover, he watches movies to educate himself. 

Mrs. Arters reads books regarding racial diversity, such as Just Mercy, Stamped, and Born A Crime. Similar to Mr. Pimentel, she watched movies such as the James Baldwin documentary. Arters was involved in an English department and community-wide book club allowing the teachers to educate themselves and their students on issues particular to BIPOC students and community members. 

Pimentel and Arters provide advice to teachers that want to diversify their classrooms but don’t know where to begin. 

Pimentel believes it is important to look at the voices [you] highlight. “Regarding literature, are all the author’s white men,?” he said. Additionally, he feels that reaching out to outspoken students is equally important, “Groups like HERE and Diversify Our Narrative should come to department meetings to provide thoughts and feedback about who they want to hear from.” (Pimentel)

Arters believes that asking students what “diversifying the classroom” looks like, is vital in creating inclusivity. Additionally, “celebrating ‘women’s history month’ or ‘Holocaust day’ is not enough, rather it should be integrated into the syllabus and environment of the classroom.” (Arters) Moreover, “teachers may be scared of making mistakes, so it is key to be vulnerable and be able to admit their errors.” (Arters)

During the summer of 2020, several racial incidents occurred and acted as a wake-up call for many around the world. The summer of 2020 sparked conversation, protests, and necessary change. 

Mr. Pimentel believed that having conversations about racially influenced current events is extremely important for young people, “When you give students the opportunity to talk about it, they have something to say.” (Pimentel)

He sympathizes with teachers who may not be able to address the situations directly because it is seen as a political issue in the United States. “Not being a racist is not a political issue. It’s being a good human being, so we must educate students about it.” (Arters) Mrs. Arters addresses it indirectly by expanding literature in classrooms (which she previously mentioned) and being aware of students that are traumatized by the events that occurred. 

Throughout the interview, both teachers mentioned engaging in anti-racism. Mr. Pimentel provides moments in his life where he participated in anti-racist actions. 

“I directly discuss it in class, teach different cultures around the world allowing it to become less foreign and more interesting.” Additionally, he mentions his role as the advisor of the HERE club. “We work with the curriculum department at a systematic approach in order to make a systemic impact.” (Pimentel)

 “As an anti-racist, the core of my belief is that most of the world is divided into oppressors and the oppressed, and I am 100% for the oppressed.” (Pimentel) 

Mrs. Arters believes that being anti-racist means “making sure that you are not just living your life in a way that does not promote racism, but that you advocate for those who do not have as much power.” (Arters). 

Just as it is important for teachers to create an inclusive environment, it should be a priority for the school district. Regarding Garnet Valley School District, Pimentel believes that efforts are being made, but questions if students are changing on an individual level. He continues by saying, “It’s because this isn’t something that is solved overnight. Racism and prejudice are learned behaviors, and having it be unlearned and awakened takes time as well.” (Pimentel)

As a community member, Mrs. Arters looks at what the community has been doing to attract more diverse families in order to achieve a diverse school district. “Considering the years of systemic racism, redlining, and real estate laws, it is evident that our nation must make systemic changes.” (Arters) She continues, “We must find a way to bring diversity to Garnet Valley because the more diversity we have, the more enriched we are.” (Arters)

Mrs. Arters proceeds with a message to the student body, “We have very little representation in our drama club, sports, and other programs, but I believe it would help students see themselves and diversify our school if we did.”

Before Pimentel finished, he recognized the HERE club, “real change, from all different levels, is occurring and we are going to watch the benefits over time.” (Pimentel)

David Pimentel, a Social Studies teacher at Garnet Valley High School

Heather Arters (right) with a former student. 

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