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By the time you become an adult, introducing yourself is so commonplace that you most likely have the script memorized. You say your name, tell where you’re from, and show interest in what other people say. For many school-aged youth, however, taking that first step can be more problematic than we often realize. Depending on a number of factors including background, language, geography and level of exposure to people with diverse upbringings, we react differently upon hearing names like John, Jamal, Janeesha, Julio, Jin and Mohammed. Furthermore, we view our own names differently: if you’re a Junior, your name is part of a lineage; if you’re a Jelissa, your name speaks to your individuality. From the moment we introduce ourselves, we are testing the cultural competency of those around us.
“Cultural competency takes into account lived experiences,” said Wykesha C. Hayes, founder of educational and enrichment firm Keey Group, LLC (formerly Keey 2 Kids), at a recent workshop held at Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids.
Hayes’ emphasis on cultural competency aligns perfectly with Safe and Inclusive Environments, the first element of the CASE for Kids Program Quality Framework. This framework provides a road map to ensuring high-quality out-of-school time programming.
Hayes began the workshop by giving the professionals in the room, many of whom lead afterschool programs, a chance to reflect on their names. The group of about ten, which seemed to mirror the growing diversity of the Houston area, displayed drawings and told stories that elucidated how cultural differences are evident in names – both generally, in preferences and practices, and specifically, in family traditions and pronunciations. “You can’t say more about lived experiences than by talking about names,” Hayes said.
In an open, friendly and plainspoken manner, Hayes modeled the way that an afterschool program can become a place where a dialogue about serious subjects like race, ethnicity, gender and generational differences can happen comfortably and engagingly. A first-day activity as simple as asking “What’s your name?” does not have to be an opportunity for ridicule and snickering. It’s a chance to lay the groundwork for a program that values contributions from each individual.
Hayes firmly stated that bringing cultural competency to the afterschool program does not have to amount to an “anything goes” approach. “Don’t sacrifice expectations,” she said. Instead, work to give everyone an opportunity to rise to challenges and push beyond their presumed capabilities.
All kids need safe, supervised environments throughout the day with opportunities to help prepare them for the future. To learn more about CASE for Kids, call 713-696-1331 or visit www.afterschoolzone.org