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Equity in Education in the U.S. and Czech Republic

Sometimes it takes a village, and sometimes it takes a tsunami. That's the assessment of Lehigh student Prarthna Johri '18, who joined a team of students in researching ways to advance equity in education, both in the United States and the Czech Republic.

The initiative, known as CADRE3—Calculated Actions to Deliver Racial and Ethnic Equity in Education—was among Lehigh's 2016 Mountaintop initiatives. Christine Novak, professor of practice in School Psychology, mentored the team, which was particularly interested in advancing equitable educational outcomes for those who are socially excluded from a majority culture because of poverty or other birth circumstances. As such, the centerpiece of the 10-week summer initiative was school desegregation.

In the Czech Republic, the focus was on the Romani people who typically live in isolated communities on the outskirts of towns and face an educational system that disproportionately places Romani children in "practical schools" for children with "mild mental handicaps."

In Bethlehem, Pa., part of the team worked with the equity director for the Bethlehem Area School District and focused its energies toward modifying a diversity training for teachers that Floyd Beachum, program director of Educational Leadership, and Chris Liang, associate professor of Counseling Psychology, have conducted for the district's administrators.

The students began their work by examining U.S. schools that had been successful in desegregating their student populations. They provided their analyses to one of Novak's colleagues, an inclusion expert in the Czech government, and used their analyses to guide the rest of their project activities.

Johri was among those who traveled to Prague, where she interned at the NGO news organization ROMEA. In a blog post, she shared insights she gained from a colleague there.

"Yveta mentioned that the problem was no longer the shuttling of students to special schools," which were to be abolished in September. "As much as I thought that was good news, she brought up the point that though the schools will no longer be called that, the student population wouldn't be distributed. So even though the schools would be reformed, the populations would remain in their current segregated states."

Johri concluded: "It is becoming increasingly apparent that we're trying to fight an issue that can only be resolved by completely dismantling the system and rebuilding it, while fighting the attitude barrier." She retained hope that the team's efforts could have an effect. "We can help a few people, help a couple parents or a couple students. And maybe those students motivate a couple of their friends or their children later. Maybe our drop of water contributes to the tsunami."

Story by Jennifer Marangos

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In a world that has become more connected, Lehigh faculty have become an integral part of the international dialogue surrounding education, particularly in regions where educational reform is undergoing intense scrutiny.