Working with Youth Who Don't Look Like You

By some measures, there are more youth of color in the U.S. than white students, yet the afterschool and K-12 workforce remains largely white, middle-class, and female. It's more important now than ever to think about ways to make sure you are including all of your youth.

Think About Your Curriculum

Does your curriculum use examples of multiple cultures? This is more than changing the names in math story problems to "Juan" and Deonte." Are you careful not to assume that all families will include two heterosexual parents? Do you include extended families in your ideas of family culture?

Does your curriculum allow youth to use their religious or traditional beliefs to think about problems? This means leaving the discussion open to youths' thinking about ideas such as creationism, mysticism, or other ideas. While religion and science may disagree about many things, it is impossible to change someone's beliefs in a single conversation, so we should let youth make sense of their sTEM and personal beliefs without judging them or discounting them.

Think About What You Say and Do

It's important for all educators to take on an attitude of nonjudgment and respect for all youth, even if you don't understand their thinking or ideas. When you see a young person engaging in behavior that's against the rules or dangerous, try to remain positive and refrain from judging them harshly.

Keep an Eye Out for Microaggressions

Finally, keep an eye out for the ways that assumptions about race, gender, ability, age, or other statuses can creep into our vocabulary. Do you credit black children for being "articulate?" This is a microaggression because you are assuming the young person wouldn't normally be articulate, perhaps because of their race. Learn more about microaggression, and try to keep learning! Inclusivity is a long journey.