Thank you for the Jan. 17 Wednesday Journal article that included coverage of the Multicultural Education Department’s annual presentation to the District 97 school board. I am writing in hopes that I can expand on the article a little bit so the community will better understand how the department serves not only Dist. 97, but all of the schools (public and private) as well as the village of Oak Park at large.

The Multicultural Education Department is not just a resource center that is a nice library for students and teachers to visit occasionally. Actually the Multicultural Resource Center (MCRC), which is both a library and hands-on museum, is just one function of the department as a whole. It is where the department is housed and, yes, it is a cool place-the coolest room in the district-because it makes cultural resources that are not found in most libraries available to any teachers, students and community members who wish to use them. It is a unique collection of resources from which other libraries often borrow.

With over 16,000 items (books, films, music CDs, posters, artifacts, clothing and shoes, musical instruments, learning baskets and kits, games and more) teachers bring their classes in to enhance their lessons through hands-on experiences that build appreciation for diversity and the richness of world cultures and promote understanding and tolerance.

The MCRC is used by many teachers, students (from Dist. 97, OPRF High School and Concordia University) and community groups throughout Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Berwyn, Cicero, and beyond. The department staff offers various levels of assistance to help bring history and culture alive though class sessions held in the MCRC or on site. Then, of course, there’s the annual Ethnic Festival-this year will be our 27th village-wide celebration of diversity.

That is not all there is to the Multicultural Education Department. The department is currently updating the district’s Holocaust curriculum so as to include expanded information and other holocausts around the world (mandated by the State of Illinois). It sponsors and/or facilitates activities that promote tolerance and cross-cultural understanding through programs like “Enlarging the Lens of the Holocaust,” bringing in a Black German guest speaker to the Oak Park Public Library, OPRF High School, Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest, Forest Park Middle School, and both Julian and Brooks middle schools; Mix-It-Up Days; No Name-Calling activities; the Million Father March; as well as classes and workshops for staff and students.

The Multicultural Education Department is one of the lead agents in the Pipeline for Success partnership which includes workshops and mentoring activities for at-risk students through the Fellowship Community Services, the Village of Oak Park, Family Service of Oak Park & River Forest. Other Pipeline partners include the Black Star Project which conducts Parent University workshops and student motivation activities; the Illinois Youth Advocates Office which provides programs such as “Real Men Talking”; and AACF tutoring which offers a computer-based academic program for Dist. 97 students.

The department actively participates in efforts to eliminate the achievement gap through the formation and expansion of the Pipeline for Success program, which is a local collaboration of teachers, administrators, community agencies, and local citizens who work together to meet the needs of all students (but especially at-risk students). It has also been involved in efforts to increase minority teachers, and increase the number of minority students in gifted and advanced level programs.

As the director of the department, one of my responsibilities is to represent diverse cultural perspectives so that as decisions are made in the school district, the effects those decisions will have on diversity, inclusion, and minority student achievement will be taken into consideration.

The Multicultural Education Department staff serves District 97 and the village in very important and concrete ways that are important to the reputation of Oak Park as a diverse community. It supports the stated mission of the village, and celebrates diversity in every aspect of community life. We strive to continuously improve cultural understanding and interaction because these are important in shaping our children into fully educated citizens, well prepared to peacefully interact in an increasingly small global community. It is important to have such an advocate and voice especially here and especially now.

Lynn Allen is director of the Multicultural Education Department at District 97.

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