The CrossRoads Project at Hope College and the West Ottawa Public Schools have teamed up to increase the cultural sensitivity and awareness of middle school teachers with support from the National Diversity Education Program.

The Hope-West Ottawa program, "Becoming a Culturally-Responsive Teacher," expands an effort that began at Hope for the college's education students during the spring 2005 semester. It features a series of films and panel presentations that explore diversity from a variety of perspectives, often by highlighting the experiences of families from the area.

The National Diversity Education Program selected 12 educators from five states - Michigan, Arkansas, Illinois, Texas and California - to create diversity education programs for middle school teachers. The total includes the three educators who have created the Hope-West Ottawa program: Dr. Jeanine Dell'Olio, a professor of education who specializes in urban education at Hope; Kim Douglas, an adjunct assistant professor of English who teaches "Encounters with Cultures" at Hope; and David Douglas, who is the lead trainer for diversity in the West Ottawa Public Schools.

The project began at Hope this past spring as a complement to the "Perspectives in Education" course designed for student teachers in the urban education program. Featuring insights from area residents based on their school experiences, the program was funded through Hope's CrossRoads Project, which helps students explore how their work can be of service to the wider world.

"It was very informal - people just told their stories," Dell'Olio said.

Kim Douglas had successfully used a similar model in the "Encounter with Cultures" class, seeking to allow her students to hear about experiences related to race and culture from those who have lived them rather than read about them alone. It's an approach she has used for several years.

"I have come to realize that the human heart is impacted most by stories," she said. "These aren't fictional stories, but the actual stories of our lives."

The approach also worked well for the CrossRoads program.

"They just turned out to be a terrific addition for the CrossRoads students," Dell'Olio said. "The panels affected them deeply."

When they learned about the National Diversity Education Program, Dell'Olio and Douglas spoke with Douglas's husband David about expanding the CrossRoads-sponsored initiative.

"We wanted to broaden the scope of what we had done through CrossRoads from just pre-service teaching, which is what our department does, to in-service teaching as well," Dell'Olio said. "It's nice to know that we have some funding to do additional things that are more in-service focused."

The program isn't limited to West Ottawa teachers alone. It has been made available to middle school teachers in surrounding districts as well through the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District.

A total of five presentations have been scheduled for the fall - starting with a film on Sept. 29, and continuing through early December with panel presentations focusing on migrant families, Middle Eastern Americans, Native Americans and faith-based issues in the classroom. A series of workshops is also being planned for the spring semester.

In addition to helping underwrite the presentations, the support is also providing an opportunity for Dell'Olio and the Douglases to meet with other grant recipients. On Thursday, Oct. 27, all of the educators who have received support will attend a conference in Los Angeles, Calif., during which they will make presentations concerning their projects.

The National Diversity Education Program is a one-year program designed to explore how diversity has shaped and continues to shape American democracy. The program is collaborating with educators to identify the best practices in diversity education; to produce and implement new curricula, create educational tools and present workshops that expand diversity education; and to establish a national network of educators and organizations committed to a deeper understanding of diversity and American democracy. The program is co-sponsored by the Japanese American National Museum and the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, with support from Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.