Diversity and collaboration touted at Multicultural Conference at Kennett High School
● By Steven Hoffman
Kennett High School assistant principal Ray Fernandez encouraged students to embrace their cultural differences and learn to collaborate with one another at the 16th annual Multicultural and Diversity Awareness Conference that took place at the school on April 22.
Fernandez, who serves as the coordinator for the event, told the attendees that making connections with others will be very important as the students go through life.
The keynote speaker for the conference was Dr. Richard Dunlap, an educational consultant and former superintendent of the Upper Darby School District who has been an educator for more than three decades. Dunlap also encouraged the students to collaborate and learn from their diversity.
Students from more than a dozen schools attended this year’s conference, including Central York High School, Norristown High School, Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pa., Conestoga High School, and Upper Merion High School. Closer to Kennett, students from Great Valley, Avon Grove High School, and Coatesville High School were also at the conference.
Kennett Consolidated Superintendent Barry Tomasetti welcomed the attendees, and encouraged them to become leaders in their schools and communities.
In addition to the keynote speech by Dunlap, the day included workshops, a special presentation and student group discussion on breaking boundaries, and a talent show competition.
Dunlap talked about the importance of diversity in schools, business, and in life.
“Diversity means a lot of different things to different people,” Dunlap explained. He asked members of the audience what diversity meant to them and got a variety of answers. One person said that diversity means accepting people for their differences.
Diversity is a prerequisite for dynamic synergy, Dunlap said, explaining that if you get a group of people in the same room who share similar opinions, they won’t generate the quantity and quality of ideas that would be produced by a group of people who don’t share similar opinions. The diversity of ideas comes from the differing opinions.
To illustrate the point, Dunlap talked about how IBM launched a diversity and inclusion initiative in 2004 as a way to overcome the significant financial challenges that the company was facing at the time. The company formed eight task force groups, each one comprised of similar people. For example, one group might include Hispanics who were in the company’s upper level management, while another group would have all women. Once the eight task force groups met and brainstormed, the groups were then brought together so that they could share their ideas. What resulted not only increased the diversity and inclusion of the upper management of the company, it also broadened IBM’s reach to potential customers.
“It became clear that diversity in the workplace would be a bridge,” Dunlap said, explaining that the company’s financial picture brightened as a result of the diversity initiative.
Dunlap encouraged the attendees to become leaders in their communities because positive changes can occur when people do so. He explained that when a group of people come together to communicate a vision, it impacts everyone in the group and all those people that they are in contact with. Consequently, a group can do more to shape the world around them than one individual.
“The whole is more than the sum of its parts,” Dunlap said.
Tomasetti lauded Fernandez for the work organizing the Multicultural and Diversity Awareness Conference, as did Dunlap. Fernandez was instrumental in starting the Multicultural and Diversity Awareness Conference at Kennett High School 16 years ago, and said that the event is always a personal highlight for him each year. He explained why he thought it was important to start the conference in the first place.
“I thought it was important to bring kids together from different schools and to have them learn a little about our differences,” he said.
The conference started out small, but quickly grew in the third and fourth year as students from more schools attended. This year’s conference drew more than 200 people.
The conference’s mission—to help young people share and learn about issues like race relations and cultural differences and similarities—is still important. It’s also important to encourage young people to become engaged in their communities.
Fernandez urged the attendees to take what they learn about the importance of diversity at the conference back to their schools and their communities.
“These discussions should not begin here or end here,” Fernandez said.
He added that the issues addressed during the conference, even after 16 years, are ones that are still relevant and need to be discussed because race relations and cultural differences and similarities aren’t as good as they could be.
“I think we need more of this,” he said. “Things aren’t where they need to be yet.”
Fernandez thanked the sponsors and supporters in the community who make the conference possible, including Basciani Mushrooms, Fulton Bank, Becker Locksmith, Krapf’s Bus Company, the Kennett Area YMCA, Plaza Azteca, Taqueria Moroleon, KFC, Taco Bell, Mario’s Bakery, and Lara Bakery.
Kennett High School is one of the more diverse schools in the state, and Fernandez said that he’s proud that it organizes and plays host to the annual conference.
“We embrace our diversity,” Fernandez said. “I feel like this has become an institution in our school.”