The need for better understanding and inclusion of people from diverse backgrounds in schools cannot be understated, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
The Department of Education has launched a statewide advisory committee to look at how social studies is taught in schools and how teachers are being trained to relate to students from diverse backgrounds.
Kirk Moyers, social studies coordinator for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, has been named to the state Advisory Committee on Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices, which met for the first time last week.
Moyers has been involved in different organizations and committees in this realm of education for years. He is the director of the equality advisory council for the school division, and for the last 12 years he has been the director of the local chapter of AVID, advancement via individual determination, which helps under-represented and first-time students get to college.
Given his background, applying to the committee when a colleague told him about it seemed like a great fit, he said.
The committee was established via state legislation this past General Assembly session.
According to the legislation: “The Advisory Committee shall include but not be limited to a geographically, ethnically, and religiously diverse representation of teachers, curriculum specialists, principals, superintendents, advocates, higher education institutions, parents, legislators, and community-based organizations. The Advisory Committee shall report its recommendations to the Board of Education, the Governor, and the Chairpersons of the House Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education and Health no later than July 1, 2021.”
The committee includes a wide variety of educators, and the first meeting was largely meant as a welcome, introduction of members, assignment to subcommittees and outlining goals.
As an advisory committee, it will not draft legislation, but make recommendations for future legislation, Moyers said. It will look at the social studies Standards of Learning objectives to make sure they are fairly representative of history and from multiple perspectives.
“The idea is to make standards more accurate of the history that happened,” Moyers said.
The committee will also look at how teachers are trained to relate to and teach students from diverse backgrounds. This makes Moyers’ presence on the committee appropriate, because in Harrisonburg City Public Schools there are more than 70 different languages represented.
The advisory committee will meet again in February and March, with more work being done at the subcommittee level. It will meet again in June and July to finalize recommendations and reports.
Moyers said he hopes to gain an improvement of his own understanding of different cultures and beliefs.
“To learn how people view things differently and what’s important to them,” Moyers said of his goals with the committee. “I’m a big believer that the more education you have about whatever topic — and different perspectives on that topic — the more informed you are in making decisions. And just because I’m an older guy, I don’t think that my worldview is necessarily 100% correct.”