South St. Paul Secondary teachers to receive 2019 Cultural Jambalaya Diversity Award

South St. Paul Secondary School’s affinity groups’ teachers, which includes by Minnesota’s 2019 Teacher of the Year Jessica Davis, have been named a recipient of a 2019 Cultural Jambalaya Diversity Award. This award honors those who have made a positive difference by advancing multiculturalism and ethnic diversity in their Minnesota communities.  The educators are being recognized for promoting much-needed conversations around the school’s increasingly diverse student population. 

The teachers’ groups represent high school students from different backgrounds that are underrepresented in the community. They took their students’ experiences of being marginalized and repurposed them into a source of energy for positive change. Their collective work has provided a space where the students and the community are further educated on equity and multiculturalism, and where students’ experiences in advocacy and leadership prepares them for their lives as active citizens.  

The affinity groups began after several teachers were approached by a group of passionate students who felt an urgency to discuss cultural issues and wanted to take an active role in response. The teachers worked with the students, who were from backgrounds that are very much underrepresented in the community, to take their experiences of being marginalized and repurpose them into a source of energy for positive change.  The motivation of both the teachers and the students to engage in this work speaks to the intensity of their conviction.  

The affinity groups — some of which include Comunidad de Latinos Unidos (CDLU) - supervised by Karol Quesada, Katherine Perla and Shannon Lippke; Black Pride Organization (BPO) — supervised by Jessica Davis; Women’s Society — supervised by Lisa Kaufman; and Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) — supervised by Julie Anderson — have made great strides in advancing multiculturalism both in the school and the community. Through their general meetings and hosted events, each group has created a space that celebrates the diversity that exists in South St. Paul. For example, Women’s Society and BPO teamed up earlier this year for a viewing of the movie “Hidden Figures” that included a reflection on intersectionality within the community.  The groups also celebrate the histories of their respective cultures each month, embedding information within daily trivia or bingo centered around figures and events that are vital to various populations.   

“These teachers each have a personal passion and investment in equity. Whether they specifically hale from these populations or are functioning as strong allies, these colleagues of mine demonstrate a consistent, unwavering support that I find sincerely inspirational,” Daniel Knewitz, psychologist at South St. Paul Public School, said.  “Being a witness to their work and their commitment to supporting all students has truly made me a stronger educator.  I can say without hesitation that South St. Paul is a stronger community because of our school’s affinity groups.”  

Since their inception, the affinity groups have taken strides toward real change in the school and community. The groups have created a meaningful discourse within the community, including ensuring a formal observation of Black History Month and National African American Parent Involvement Day.  The groups also host a Professionals of Color Career Panel, where students and families can witness and interact with the professionals from their community that have experienced many of the unique challenges that marginalized populations face in education and the workplace.  

In selecting the Diversity Award recipients, a panel of independent judges evaluated the nominees’ impact, the creativity of their approach and the passion of their voice.  The winners will be honored at Cultural Jambalaya’s annual gala at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 3.   

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