Jefferson Elementary utilizes new tools to promote inclusion

A Jefferson elementary student excitedly shows off some of her teacher's new diverse books.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–For the past several years, Jefferson Elementary has increased its focus on promoting inclusion, with a goal of closing achievement gaps and helping all of their students succeed. “We want it to be part of the way we live at Jefferson,” said principal Kandy Steel. This school year, thanks to the generous support of the Jefferson PTO and other donors, the school has added several new resources to help them celebrate each of their students. As teachers begin utilizing these new tools, they look to prepare students to thrive in an increasingly global society.

Jefferson first grade teacher Mackenzie Strouf wanted to provide more diverse books for her first grade students. She started a Donor’s Choose project online to fund her purchase and raised more than $2,000 within two weeks.

Hoping to bring diverse books to classrooms throughout the building, Strouf shared her idea with Steel and the Jefferson PTO, and they decided to move ahead with purchasing between $600 and $700 worth of books for each grade, amounting to 30 to 40 books for each teacher. They also bought additional books for the school library.

As students enjoy these books, Strouf believes they will help students develop empathy and better understand the sort of experiences that people different from themselves have: “I think it’s good for kids to see themselves in books, no matter what color they are or what they are going through. I also think it’s important that they see people that are different from themselves,” she emphasized.

In their art classes, Colors of the World crayons have given students new ways to explore and express what makes them unique. Earlier in the school year, Steel discovered the Colors of the World crayons, a greatly expanded set of skin tone crayons developed by Crayola in 2020. With assistance from the PTO, the school purchased enough for all students to use during their self portrait units. With these crayons, students could find ones that looked like them, helping them make self-portraits that really reflected themselves.

Through using these more precise art supplies, art teacher Wendy Walthert Stansbury believes students will gain a better understanding of what characteristics make each person look the way they do and appreciate what makes each of them beautiful. “In addition to building their observational and reflective skills, having a student make a self-portrait is an important part of helping them discover who they are; self-portraits help build a sense of identity,” she explained.