Class of 2021: Kate Jefferson, Miriam Sado found Inclusive Culturally Responsive Educators student organization
EDHD graduating students want educators to be better equipped to offer their students a superior education
As roommates and close friends throughout their four years at Bowling Green State University, Kate Jefferson and Miriam Sado talked a lot — whether it was serious conversations about their course work and the issues of the day, or casual chats about social functions outside the classroom.
But the two Spring 2021 graduates of the Inclusive Early Childhood Program decided in Fall 2019 that words needed to lead to action when the topic focused on new pathways to creating better teachers who, in turn, would foster an improved learning environment and, ultimately, better students.
So, with seemingly unlimited passion and energy, they took the bold move of founding the Inclusive Culturally Responsive Educators (ICRE) student organization — an entity that would work to promote diversity, equity and inclusion not only for College of Education and Human Development majors, but all across the Bowling Green campus.
Even while faced with the restraints of the pandemic, it has blossomed into an academic support mechanism that will have BGSU producing more well-rounded educators who will enter their classrooms acutely aware of the diversity of their students, and better equipped to offer their students a superior education.
“Growing up, in the schools that I attended, I didn't have very positive experiences being a minority,” said Jefferson, a 22-year-old native of the Dayton area. “There were derogatory comments from teachers and students, and I realized there weren't that many people who looked like me. Everyone feels more comfortable around people that look like them.”
Jefferson said that she and Sado envisioned ICRE as a forum where educators from underrepresented ethnicities and cultural backgrounds could hold frank discussions on what has been a predominantly European American career path and examine the importance and impact these educators could have on their students. They wanted to see the organization build the knowledge base of teachers about different cultural values and practices and develop an empathetic teaching force that is better equipped to understand a diverse range of students and families.
Jefferson said that during her time at the University, she was required to take just one diversity-focused class, and it centered on much broader societal topics than those she expects to encounter in the primary or secondary school environment.
“After we were introduced to the term 'culturally responsive teaching' and what it means to be a good teacher for every student that comes into your classroom, we decided to start a program with that specific goal in mind,” Jefferson said. “We saw there were organizations for black students in business but none for education majors, so we thought we should start one ourselves.”
The roommates worked with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, lined up advisors, developed a constitution, spoke to classes of education majors and started to reach out to people on campus.
“It was a little intimidating at first since this can be a touchy subject to talk about, but the professors were positive and encouraging about it, and we even got offers to speak in staff meetings,” Jefferson said. “We didn't know how people would respond, but we held informational meetings and got students to sign up.”
Sado, a native of the Cleveland area who hopes to return there to teach following graduation, said the fact that she and Jefferson shared common experiences and a common vision gave their organization the early momentum it needed to get established.
“We began to see these issues in our program and in the education field, and at the same time we began to feel really frustrated and alienated,” Sado said. “We looked at what we could do to make a difference and really make an impact.”
She said the initial effort was to create an organization where teachers of color could find a safe environment and a sense of belonging, but they soon expanded their membership to include every educator since they realized the awareness they were promoting was essential for all.
“I'm seeking placement in an urban school in the Cleveland area, where I am aware a lot of my students will be coming from home situations where there's hardship,” Sado said. “I really want to be able to form my classroom environment around those different identities and diverse backgrounds and situations. That will allow me, as their teacher, to take in each child as their whole self.”
They yearn to see the Inclusive Early Childhood Program and ICRE utilize understanding and empathy to best represent the teaching profession, all while educators serve as positive role models for every student they teach. Volunteering, community service work and input from guest speakers are all part of the foundation they employ to build unity and strength among underrepresented educators.
“It has been exciting to see how this program has been received,” said Jefferson, who added that the pair had expected a modest response, at least initially.
“There are currently more than 100 in the group, and we hope it continues to grow and that new leaders pursue this with the same passion and energy that we have. I think the experience we've had here, the things we've learned, and the way this organization has helped prepare us for careers as educators — it has made a true impact.”
"Kate Jefferson and Miriam Sado represent everything the College of Education and Human Development want in our graduates," said Dr. Dawn Shinew, dean of the College of Education and Human Development. "They are committed to inclusion and equity and have already established themselves as leaders. We are proud to have them as alumni of EDHD."
Sado said they have encouraged leadership in their college to include their organizations' mission as part of the standard curricula utilized to prepare the next generation of educators at BGSU.
“Culturally responsive teaching is extremely important today,” she said. “Knowledge is powerful and education is the key to success for every student in our classroom, regardless of their background or ethnicity. We want to see our students love learning and help them find the light at the end of the tunnel so they can all go on to achieve great things.”