As the doors to Milton High School closed for the summer, another opened for art educator Courtney Reckord.
In her eighth year at MHS, the NEA Foundation named Reckord as a 2018 global learning fellow. She is one of 48 public school educators nationally tapped for the position, which attracted 400 applicants.
Reckord will spend the next year building her global competency skills — knowledge she will then transfer to her students, teaching them what it means to be a global citizen. The accumulation of her studies will conclude with a nine-day trip to South Africa next summer.
“Meeting specific people and learning about their own experiences, those are the kinds of things that stick with you,” Reckord said. “That, I’ll be able to share as opposed to vague statistics or vague things that you just read in a book.”
Her nomination comes at an integral time for Milton schools. In recent weeks, teachers, students, parents and community members have brought numerous accounts of racism and bullying to the school board’s attention. The outpour declared a dire need for race and culture education training for district staff, faculty and trustees.
Recognizing Milton as a predominately white community, Reckord said multicultural education is important in schools both with and without a diverse population.
“If you don’t understand that people can look different and [still be] human people, then you just miss out on connecting with people and you kind of close yourself down a little bit,” she said.
Over the next year, Reckord will study a range of material relating to varying cultures but with a primary focus on South Africa. As an art teacher, she said many times, 90 percent of the artists she introduces to her students are white males.
Being able to delve into South African artists and their work will widen her view, she said. While multicultural art isn’t deeply rooted in her curriculum, she has incorporated a few related projects in her tenure.
One she recalled with awe was a virtual pen-pal partnership with a school in the Dominican Republic around 2012. Funded by the NEA, Reckord purchased computers and cameras for the cross-continental school.
The project was eye opening, she said, as students from both countries shared pictures and open-ended essays about their respective school, lifestyle and hometown.
Another cultural exploration is portrayed on her classroom walls: posters of Peter Menzel’s photography book, “Material World: A Global Family Portrait.”
In these photos, families from around the world are pictured outside their homes next to all their belongings. Disparity is evident between families in Mali, who have next to nothing, and Americans, who are known to thrive on material excess.
Engaging in conversation about these cultural differences with students — and anyone else who wanders into her classroom — is of great interest to Reckord.
With a self-acclaimed love for travel, the art teacher said she is enthusiastic about the journey ahead, and curious, too.
She’s traveled to parts of Canada, Europe and Central America, but never Africa, she said. Currently, the program’s topics of study are vague, but have an overarching theme of culture, economy, gender, history, race relations, food and the like.
To Reckord, global citizenship means opening one’s mind to more understanding, simultaneously creating curiosity. When people don’t understand others, it creates fear, she said.
“People are all the same, even though we look different,” Reckord said. “Everyone has a different experience in life, so you can’t make assumptions.”
The fellows come from an assortment of disciplines. They’ll meet in Washington, D.C. this October to share insights on readings, online coursework and webinars from this summer before embarking overseas.
According to Reckord, art allows people to explore self-identity, a fundamental part of the high school experience.
Instead of having her students replicate South African art, Reckord plans to ask students to go further and consider the art’s meaning. She’ll also create lesson plans on global citizenship that will be accessible to educators nationwide, the NEA said.
Multicultural education can be taught in more ways than one, Reckord said, adding she doesn’t have a solid multicultural unit every year to avoid being superficial.
“You want to have a clear understanding of the culture you’re teaching about,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think that I have that about any culture other than my own at this point.”
Now, with the door open, she’s diving right in.