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Growing Cultural Competency in a School Setting

April 8, 2017

We hear this every day: we are living in a global world. This inter-connectedness brings about all kinds of benefits, but it’s also important to teach our kids the value of diversity and expose them to the vast world around them. One school in Brooklyn, BASIS Independent, embeds the concept of cultural competency into their curriculum. We could all take a page from their book, in our homes and classrooms. 


Cultural competency will help students thrive in our 21st century economy of rapid globalization and technological advancement. Last year, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report that stated: “If young people are to co-exist and interact with people from other faiths and countries, open and flexible attitudes, as well as the values that unite us around our common humanity, will be vital. Curricula will need to be comprehensive, interdisciplinary and responsive to an explosion of scientific and technological knowledge.”

One school in Brooklyn is doing just that: BASIS Independent Brooklyn works to expose even their youngest students to cultures around the globe through a series of programs organized around the “Global Classroom Project.” The curriculum explores themes of family, community and heritage around the world, integrating ways to explore and celebrate similarities and differences with students across their school, in the US, and globally.

So, what does this program look like? Kindergarten students shared photos of their home, family, stores and favorite toys with peers in their sister school in Shenzhen, China, as well as other sister campuses closer to home in Fremont, CA, and McLean, VA. The students saw similarities between grocery stores in Brooklyn and Shenzhen more than with the megastores in McLean. The students in second grade also shared Lunar New Year greetings and videos to see what celebrations look like beyond their own campus.

“We wanted to build a program around international awareness,” said Head of School Hadley Ruggles. “There is a whole world out there. Look beyond your zip code. Look beyond your community, look beyond your country, and see the many cultures that enrich our world.”

Language study is also a focus at the school, and lies at the heart of growing cultural competency. Students in the younger grades have Mandarin instruction every day starting in Kindergarten and through Grade 4. The curriculum reinforces not just language acquisition but also cultural appreciation. Then students also have a weekly Connections class to help draw linkages across all areas of study, and the Global Classroom Project will inform themes for this class time in years to come. At BASIS, students switch from Mandarin to Latin in Grade 5. Middle school and high school students can choose from Latin, Spanish, French or Mandarin for continuing study and eventual language mastery.

Through a partnership with Columbia University’s Klingenstein Center, the school’s Brooklyn middle school students explored their own culture and those of their peers by researching and presenting after school independent study projects that were ultimately filmed in the format of a TED Talk after school. These projects helped to grow a greater awareness of heritages that enrich the school’s student body through this after-school “Cultural Ambassadors” project. By modeling the type of positive, thoughtful conversations about global cultures in their classrooms, students can cultivate empathy and understanding for 21st century learners about to enter an increasingly interconnected marketplace.

If you’re in NYC and want to learn more about BASIS Independent schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan, please sign up for an event at www.basisindependent.com/nyc.


BASIS began as a visionary venture in 1998 when Dr. Michael and Olga Block, world-class academics in the field of economics, found that students in their classrooms who were educated outside of the United States were not only more prepared for the challenges faced in college than their American counterparts, but were simply “better” at being students. Digging further, they found that low expectations among American students led to a lack of curricular substance in U.S. classrooms. Creating a brand new school in Tucson, Arizona, they discovered that American students thrived when challenged, rising to and surpassing the best students in the world. Thus the BASIS.ed revolution was born!

They developed a formula for success, refined regularly since then, that proves every child can become a great student when presented a rigorous course of study taught by Subject Expert Teachers and supported by a culture of excellence. What began as a single campus in Tucson has grown to become a unique, high-achieving, and unprecedented network of schools — four independent schools (located in Brooklyn, McLean, and two locations in Silicon Valley) and an international school in Shenzhen, China, and 18 charter schools across the United States.