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Educators Discuss Needs of Minorities : Conference: Building self-confidence of culturally diverse students is a must, seminar told.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

School officials who want to discourage students from banding together in ethnic gangs, such as the ones that fought at Westminster High School this week, need to make minority students feel confident about belonging to the campus as a whole, organizers of a conference for educators said Friday.

“Kids who feel isolated tend to move in groups. There needs to be programs to help kids feel OK about who they are so they can do things together as a school, so differences can begin to diminish,” said Eva Long, a deputy superintendent in the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District in Livermore.

Long was among about 250 participants at the statewide conference being held through Sunday at the Le Meridien Hotel here. Entitled “Education Is Our Freedom,” it was organized by the Hispanic Caucus of the California School Boards Assn., the Asian/Pacific Islander School Board Member Assn. and the Hispanic Superintendents Assn. of California.

In an interview before he moderated a seminar on “Exploring Issues in a Culturally Diverse Educational System,” Long said stereotypes can keep teachers from giving minority students the self-confidence they need.

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“Teachers should try to dissipate some of the stereotypical ways they look at kids and treat them as individuals,” she said.

Earlier this week violence erupted on the Westminster High campus when Latino and Asian gangs clashed. At least four students were injured during clashes Tuesday and Thursday.

Richard Tanaka, president of the Asian/Pacific Islander group and a school board member with the East Side Union High School District in San Jose, explained that students whose first language is not English can get frustrated if they do not know where to turn for help in dealing with school subjects or with other students.

“If you can get counselors who speak their languages, that will be helpful,” Tanaka said, when asked how fights stemming from racial tension could be prevented. “In lots of school districts, what we’re dealing with is 50 dialects being spoken, but we don’t have enough staff members who can speak those languages.”

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School officials need to have staff development programs on cultural awareness and hold conferences for parents so that they can understand how to help their children succeed in the school system, he added.

Esau Herrera, president of the Hispanic caucus and a school board member with the Alum Rock Union School District in San Jose, said the three organizations decided to hold a convention because there is strength in numbers.

“First of all, we recognize the face of the California population is changing to Latinos and Asians,” he said. “Secondly, there’s no need to meet separately because we should work as a team. Mark my words, this is a sign of things to come.”

Guests speakers included Rep. Esteban Torres, (D-La Puente), actor Edward James Olmos and actress Rita Moreno.

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