In spring 2021, Samford University’s Frances Marlin Mann Center launched a pilot partnership program with nearby Homewood High School. Made possible by an inclusion innovation grant from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, the partnership included several strategies to build relationships between both Samford students and high schoolers primarily from Yemen and a variety of Latin American countries including Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Argentina and Venezuela.
Before the summer break, students in the high school’s English Learner program were paired with Samford students and met weekly to learn from one another. In addition, the partnership included professional development for teachers, offered by the Samford’s Office of Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives, which took place in July.
The professional development training titled, “Partnership and Learning Exchange: Building Friendships and Mutual Awareness” focused on creating inclusive classrooms and emphasized the importance of relationship building and cultural awareness in classrooms of all ages. More than 50 faculty, staff and administrators from Homewood High School and Homewood Middle School attended the event organized by Jenée Spencer, director of diversity education and development, Allison Nanni, former associate director of the Mann Center, and Delisa Brooks, counselor and career coach at the high school. School leaders were provided with the necessary tools to foster an environment of empathy, inclusivity, diversity and vulnerability for all students and employees.
During the event, Brooks, Nanni and Mann Center student leader, Corinne McCaw, addressed the impact the pilot program had on its participants.
Brooks said, “Through this partnership with Samford, I, along with my fellow educators have received great support to help all of our students reach their full potential. Several of the students that completed the program now have a better understanding of opportunities available to them in and outside of the classroom. In addition, one student is enrolled in her first AP English class!”
Also part of the partnership was an art project facilitated by Larry Thompson, associate dean and professor in Samford's School of the Arts. Homewood High School and Samford students, faculty and staff worked together during a virtual workshop to create a mural in the Mexican muralist tradition. The mural image is of Mexican migrant farmers who were part of the 'bracero' program during World War II. The federal program benefited the U.S. economy and later led to a planned migration of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Each of the workshop participants received a package of art supplies, a paper tile, and a drawing assignment. Using charcoal to create specific sections of the mural, participants had no idea what the final image might look like. Their final collaborative product now hangs in the high school's library.
The entire partnership with teachers and students allowed for a more well-rounded approach to learning and sought to promote cultural competency in the social and academic worlds of the students involved, both Homewood High School and Samford students alike. By starting and encouraging conversations about empathy, inclusivity and diversity among teachers and educators, the pilot program partners can take steps to achieve their goal of expanding the initiative in a sustainable way among other academic institutions.