Books help increase diversity awareness at Edmonds schools

Diversity Commission makes donations to 10 locations
By Brian Soergel | Feb 21, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel Seaya Wang, left, and Kashyap Mistry read books on diversity at Westgate Elementary.

At Westgate Elementary School in Edmonds recently, librarian Teresa Wittmann was explaining why understanding diversity is never more important than right now.

“One of the things we talk about is windows into other people’s worlds,” she said. “And mirroring, seeing yourself in another book. So if you’re not white, maybe you see yourself in a book, or you can learn about other people.”

At a nearby table, four Westgate students read new books donated by the city of Edmonds Diversity Commission. Reading along with first-graders Seaya Wang and Kashyap Mistry was commission chairwoman Diana White, while commissioner Anabel Hovig followed along with third-graders Simon Thornton and Anisa Shipley.

The new books were among six that focus on themes of diversity, equity and inclusion, and are intended to be available as resources for teachers, librarians and students to help inform, engage and encourage discussion.

“At its November meeting, the Diversity Commission was reviewing the year's budget, and projected an unexpected positive balance of several hundred dollars,” Hovig said. “A suggestion was made to purchase books related to diversity for local elementary schools, as had been done in other communities. We hope these books will be a valuable and cherished resource for both students and teachers.”

The books are “Why Am I Me?” by Paige Britt, Sean Qualls, Selina Alko; “Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen,” by Debbi Michiko Florence; “You Hold Me Up,” by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel; “A Different Pond,” by Bao Phi; “I Got the Rhythm,” by Connie Schofield-Morrison; and “We're All Wonders,” by RJ Palacio.

In addition to Westgate, other schools receiving books for use in libraries and classrooms were Sherwood Elementary, Madrona K-8, Chase Lake Community, Edmonds Elementary, Seaview Elementary, Maplewood K-8, College Place Elementary, Meadowdale Elementary and Edmonds Heights Elementary.

Wittmann said the books are just a part of her school’s commitment to diversity.

“We have equity teams working with families, and we have resources to help build trust with kids so they feel they belong here,” she said. “I don’t know if parents are used to having books this diverse.

“People who read books with children will be brought in and amazed by seeing into a different world. Diversity is not just skin color. It’s religious, economic, racial, everything. You need to be prepared for that. That’s the world these kids are living in.”

White, who also is vice president of the Edmonds School District board, said that many students of color weren’t seeing books with characters that they could connect to.

“We felt this was a good way to start,” she said. “The mission of the district is to have a more diverse curriculum, as well as teachers and other things that students of color can identify with.”

There are certainly more diverse students in 2018.

White said that, over the past six years, the district has seen its population grow to a majority-minority, with more than 50 percent of students classified as nonwhite.

“We know that they sometimes aren’t given the same opportunities,” she said. “On a bigger level, this is just a start in recognizing that our curriculum isn’t doing what it’s doing for students of color. These books can help them to have role models.”

White added that diversity in Edmonds schools also includes economic diversity, as almost 40 percent of students in the district are on a free- or reduced-lunch program.

There’s also gender diversity.

“It includes the LGBTQ community” she said. “The Edmonds School District has transgender kids in elementary school, so it’s never too early to start talking about it.”

 

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