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Beacon Council fosters cultural understanding
by Meghan O'Connor
Feb 19, 2012 | 1391 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jackie Johnston
Jackie Johnston
A community is built around diverse backgrounds and cultures coming together in pursuit of a common good. The Beacon Council is doing just that. Their mission statement is “To cultivate welcoming and inclusive communities in Eastern Carver County.”

The Beacon Council has a history of providing educational opportunities for the community to learn and explore diversity and inclusion within eastern Carver County. Topics including, “Understanding the Somali Culture,” “Teaching African American students,” as well as “Understanding Vietnamese, Russian, and American Indian cultures.”

From 4:15-5:45 p.m., Feb. 22, an “Introduction to Latino Culture” will be presented at the Chanhassen High School Forum.

“One of the things we want to do is provide an education for people in the community to get to know each other better,” said Jackie Johnston, District 112 Community Education director and a founder of the Beacon Council “If for example, you have a student who needs to take time during the day to pray, how would you accommodate their needs?”

These presentations have been going on for several years, and this will be the second Latino culture presentation.

“It started as a way for teachers to learn how to accommodate and understand various students within the school system,” said Johnston.

“Now it has grown into an open community event.”

The Introduction to Latino Culture will feature three speakers all from the District 112. The three speakers are all intercultural specialists within the school district, and they all come from a variety of backgrounds.

Virma Behnke is originally from Mexico and came to the United States as an adult. Susana de Leon is from California but she lived and was widely immersed in Spanish culture throughout California. Noe Lara, who graduated from Chaska High School and was raised in Minnesota, brings experiences from his father who traveled here as a migrant worker.

Each speaker will give a short presentation, followed by a question-and-answer portion with the audience.

“In order for us to create a community and to understand each other, we have to understand each other’s culture,” said coordina-tor of the event Khambay Sivongsay.

Johnston answered a few questions about the event.

Q: Where do you see this event, and events like this one, in a few years?

A: Our hope is to continue to provide opportunities to increase awareness and create communities of belonging that embrace and celebrate the new cultures and opportunities as our community demographics change and grow.

Q: How did the Beacon Council come to be? What prompted its creation?

A: The Beacon Council originated out of a Community Education Advisory Council goal of supporting the changing diversity in our communities and promoting the success of all families and students. The superintendent at that time, David Jennings, agreed that in order to support student success we needed to support families and communities. So, the Beacon Council was created in 2007 by a group of committed community members and district staff.

Q: What has been the effect on high school students who attend these presentations?

A: I think that overall the kids have really enjoyed them, and learned a lot.

In some ways it has helped their understanding of other cultures and has helped their involvement in other kinds of activities. Last semester a poet from Africa came in to talk about culture and culture change. So, it is promoting other kinds of activities. It has also made them more aware as well as more comfortable to ask questions to people of other cultures that they might not have previously been able to.

Meghan O’Connor, of Chanhassen, is a staff intern. She is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota.
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