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Running head: CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE BCD

Culturally Responsive BCD:


The current state and plans for improvement
Philip A. Mayhoffer
University of Northern Colorado

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE BCD

Culturally Responsive BCD:


The current state and plans for improvement
A culturally responsive school is an environment that respects and encourages curiosity
about the cultural background of each student. Along with that respect and curiosity, students and
teachers alike are enabled to act as co-learners, who work together to ensure that curriculum and
content are relevant to all. While the racial diversity of many private schools like Boulder
Country Day School (BCD) is limited, the instructional environment of such schools can and
should provide a culturally responsive atmosphere. This paper will analyze the level of cultural
responsiveness at BCD and identify strengths and areas for improvement in the classroom setting
and in the overarching BCD community. Finally, the paper will outline specific plans for
increasing the cultural responsiveness in the middle school in particular which can be
implemented in the next year.
Strengths
The stated mission of Boulder Country Day School is to provide a well-rounded,
classical education of academic excellence and character development in a safe environment,
inspiring our students to reach their full potential as lifelong learners and responsible, globally
aware citizens (Boulder Country Day School, 2016). This mission statement includes a number
of important features of a culturally responsive learning environment and places significant
emphasis on supporting students in their development. That support stems from the view of each
student as a growing individual with enormous potential and with a wealth of background
experience to enrich their own development and the development of others. Two of the
objectives included in the mission statement correspond with qualities of culturally responsive
pedagogy as explained by Geneva Gay. Providing a safe environment and producing responsible,

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE BCD

globally-aware citizens are two of the strengths of BCD as a culturally responsive learning
environment.
A Safe Environment
A safe environment is an essential ingredient for any successful school. Providing that
environment can be challenging as educators, students, and community members with a variety
of backgrounds come together and learn together. There are inevitable clashes of personality,
ideology, and opinions in general. Those clashes can be as simple as fighting over a toy in
preschool to heated arguments about dress code in elementary and middle school at BCD. Of
course, the safety of a learning environment refers to the elimination of conflict that can cause
physical harm, but it also refers to safety that simultaneously protects from emotional damage
and encourages healthy risk-taking behaviors. At BCD, providing a safe environment for taking
risks is evident as teachers strive to communicate expectations clearly and provide opportunities
for students of all ages to demonstrate growth more than the achievement of some inflexible
objective for learning. The faculty also work to ensure that each student feels safe from ridicule
and alienation through implementation of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching in the
preschool and elementary school and the Developmental Designs approach in the middle school.
These approaches encourage teachers to know each student individually, culturally, and
developmentally to ensure that each student understands and feels that he or she is an important
part of the school (Responsive Classroom, 2016). As teachers have implemented these two
approaches to school facilitation, students have begun to recognize their own value and the value
of their unique cultural backgrounds in the BCD community.

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE BCD

Responsible, Globally-aware Citizens


The middle school at BCD is an IB middle school implementing the IB Middle Years
Program through 8th grade. IB is known around the world for its focus on developing inquiring,
knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world
through intercultural understanding and respect (International Baccalaureate Organization,
2016). The middle school at BCD leans into this mission through interdisciplinary projects that
focus on exploring the impact of a variety of innovations and literature on cultures and
communities around the world. Students completing their final year at BCD complete a capstone
project with a community service component that enables each student to not only learn about,
but also experience and appreciate the cultural diversity in the world around them.
In addition to the opportunities for middle school students, the entire school meets every
Friday morning for an assembly focused on celebrating some aspect of the cultural richness that
permeates Boulder, Colorado. From traditional African dance presented by Maputo Mensah and
Irish guitar music by Jon Sousa to performances by Gamelan Tunas Mekar and student created
world language presentations, Friday assemblies expose students, faculty, parents, and
community members to unique cultural experiences from around the world. BCD provides
weekly and often daily opportunities to explore and appreciate diverse cultures, encouraging all
community members to become responsible, globally-aware citizens.
Areas of Improvement
While the student experience at BCD provides a variety of opportunities to interact with
and explore unique and distinct cultures, there are a number of areas in which the school can
become a more culturally responsive environment. Much of the focus on culture in the school
promotes more awareness than responsiveness. The school population is almost all white, upper-

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE BCD

class students with a handful of minority groups represented in the preschool and elementary
school. This comes as a natural result of the cultural makeup of the Boulder area and the fact that
BCD is a tuition-funded independent school with few scholarship opportunities. There are a
number of donors and funds in place to provide additional opportunities for a more racially and
socioeconomically diverse student body, but the diversity is still limited. This can lead to the
assumption that the cultural diversity is also limited (which in some ways it is). However, the
need to respond to the cultural backgrounds of each student is still an important factor for
providing high-quality, engaging learning experiences.
Another area for improving the cultural responsiveness at BCD relates to the strength of
the IB program in the middle school. While the middle school does provide opportunities for
interdisciplinary learning and cultural exploration, those opportunities need to be more explicitly
presented to students as ways of analyzing the impacts of certain topics on various cultures.
Students in a design class, for example, should understand and be able to communicate how
innovations benefiting one group can impact (sometimes negatively) the cultural experiences of
another group. By opening students eyes to the perspectives of differing cultures, they will be
better prepared to respond to those differences in their work.
One of the strongest parts of BCDs cultural responsiveness is its use of the Responsive
Classroom approach. It is also one of the most important areas for growth and improvement.
Because the Responsive Classroom approach is just in its first year of implementation at BCD,
teachers and students are still learning what a responsive classroom is like. Everyone is still
experimenting with learning about the individual identities and cultural backgrounds of one
another. As teachers and students learn to use this approach together, BCD will become a more
culturally responsive school.

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE BCD

Plans for Implementation


As BCD strives to become a more culturally responsive community, each teacher can
focus on three practices that will have an enormous impact on the school and the success of the
students. First, each teacher can strive to become an expert in the Responsive Classroom
approach. This involves not only understanding the guiding principles of Responsive Classroom,
but also living into their potential as agents of change in their own lives and in the lives of their
students. Recognizing each student as an individual with a rich cultural heritage allows a
responsive teacher to incorporate that heritage into his or her classrooms culture. Second, each
teacher can be more explicit about the cultural implication associated with each project,
assignment, or task. Teaching students about the dynamic and interrelated nature of cultures will
increase their ability to appreciate the cultures of other and their own culture. Additionally, they
will see how every aspect of their academic experience relates to and influences the cultures that
they interact with and impact throughout their lives. Finally, each teacher can encourage his or
her students to analyze what it means to be a responsible, globally-award citizen and to evaluate
how they measure up to that standard. As students form their own understanding of globalcitizenship they can identify aspects of their cultural background that relate to others in the
global community. They can see how they fit into the world as essential parts of a fascinating
system of interacting and related cultures and individuals. By following these suggestions, BCD
can be an example of cultural responsiveness for other private and public schools in the area.

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE BCD

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References

Boulder Country Day School. (2016, December 10). About: Mission and Community. Retrieved
from BCD: Boulder Country Day School:
http://www.bouldercountryday.org/page/about/mission-and-community
Gay, G. (2010). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice. New York:
Teachers College Press.
International Baccalaureate Organization. (2016, December 10). Mission. Retrieved from
International Baccalaureate: http://www.ibo.org/about-the-ib/mission/
Origins. (2016, December 10). About the Approach. Retrieved from Developmental Designs:
https://originsonline.org/developmental-designs/about-approach#how-it-works
Responsive Classroom. (2016, December 10). Principles and Practices. Retrieved from
Responsive Classroom: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/about/principles-practices/
Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2015). Creative schools: the grassroots revolution that's
transforming education. New York: Viking Penguin.