Garden City Elementary embraces its diversity
At Garden City Elementary in Brooklyn Center, kids are encouraged to explore their backgrounds and be proud of who they are. It's one of the things they're most proud of.

"Every student and family that enters our doors, we take them as they are," said Principal David Branch.

Branch sets the tone at Garden City Elementary. His office is a reflection of that.

"When I was a high school principal it wasn't quite as cool, but the elementary kids love it," said Branch of the toys, comic books, and action figurines filling his office.

"We have all five racial groups here at the school," said Branch.

There are 40 different home languages represented at Garden City Elementary with 80 percent of the students on free or reduced-price lunch. But Branch says they let nothing stand in the way of student growth and progress. 

"I know sometimes at schools that have high poverty get grouped and stereotyped like that or high numbers of students of color, but that is not what we do here at Garden City," said Branch.

Instead, differences are seen as a positive. Throughout the school, kids can look up and see role models from their black principal to third-grade teacher Maizong Thao, who is Hmong.

"It's such an honor to be able to teach students that are like myself and for them to see me as an example and as a role model for them, because we need more people that look like them inside our schools," said Thao.

The school's celebration of diversity is culminated with a multicultural night at the end of the school year where students and their families share about their race and culture.

"I swear every parent in the school shows up. It's probably not true, but it feels like every parent is here," said Branch.

Changes to help parents, kids

Changes to parent involvement were made after hearing from parents that being part of a PTO was too much on their plate.

"They wanted workshops or seminars. From that we formed families to families seminars," said Branch.

When staff sees behavioral problems in students they dig deep into what's causing it. They have a full-time therapist and a special room where kids can decompress. It's dimly lit with blue walls to promote calmness or ways to get out their energy such as kicking a ball. 

"When they're here we try to focus on not the negative behavior. We try and focus on redirection, getting them back and ready so they can be successful in the classroom," said Felicia Phillips a behavior educational support paraprofessional.

Learning is starting earlier. Two years ago the school started offering free prekindergarden. Through pre-K, kids work on their independence and school basics.

"It helps to close the achievement gap, so that when they get to kindergarten they already have the skills they need," said pre-K teacher Marissa Lundy.

Emily Raguse, reporting

January 23, 2018


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