Federal Way schools tackle cultural divide

While Federal Way students were enjoying a rain-free day off school on Friday, teachers and staff were on campus, working as usual.

Staff at all Federal Way schools participated in Anti-Defamation League (ADL) training this year. The training aims to build cultural competency among teachers who are working in classrooms with continuously increasing diversity.

Cultural competency means addressing personal biases about people from other races, religions, genders, sexual preferences or socioeconomic backgrounds, said Colleen Allen, a school psychologist at Federal Way High School.

In the Federal Way School District, 51.7 percent of students are minorities and 48.3 percent of students come from families living in poverty. At least 105 different languages are spoken by families of students in the district. Many Federal Way students are recent first-generation immigrants.

“That could probably be scary for some teachers if they are not coming from a diverse area,” Allen said.

Allen, like many who pursue careers in education, grew up in a mostly white middle-class suburb. She said classes in college and an internship in Portland helped her adjust to working with a diverse crowd like that found in Federal Way.

“It’s probably been a gradual adjustment,” she said.

Within the past 10 years, colleges have begun teaching diversity training and cultural awareness as part of a regular teacher’s curriculum, said Jessica Brewer, an English teacher at Federal Way High School.

“It’s for us to work with the students as well as each other,” Brewer said.

In addition to diversity training, the district also tries to hire a diverse staff that reflects the student body, said Diane Turner, district spokeswoman.

“We try to hire the most excellent staff possible. At the same time, we know our students need to see teachers who look like them,” Turner said.

Margarita Gomez, a senior at Federal Way, said she sees mostly white teachers at her school, but it doesn’t make a difference in the classroom.

“I’ve never had an issue with that, with a teacher not being able to treat everyone the same,” she said.

Gomez said that it is important to be comfortable with oneself to quell worries about discrimination at school.

“If you don’t see yourself as a valued person, you’re going to think a teacher’s treating you differently because you’re black or you’re Mexican,” she said.

Many Federal Way schools also have student ADL clubs on campus that participate in activities throughout the year.

The district plans to continue diversity training as an effort to improve student achievement for all students, Turner said.

Each year, the number of minority students and the list of native languages spoken by students in Federal Way continues to grow.

“We will always be working on this,” Turner said. “I don’t know what you do but embrace it.”

Contact Margo Hoffman: or (253) 925-5565.

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