Teaching Tough Topics

Do you remember all the places you went to as a child? Maybe your parents took you to museums, playgrounds, or historic sites. That’s how Laura Garcia was raised. As a child,  her parents encouraged her to do everything, to see everything. She and her parents took advantage of all the “free stuff” Newburgh had to offer. Laura now works as the racial justice program manager at the Orange County YWCA and continues to plan events and often works with with parents. “Take your kids everywhere…. Let them see different colors, don’t just keep them at home,” Laura urges everyone she meets.

Laura Garcia

Focusing on exposing children to the world around them can lead to interesting and difficult topics. Kids ask questions and sometimes adults don’t really know how to answer them.

Talking about challenging topics is hard. That’s why we call them tough.  We all have different opinions about how, if, and when to handle them. Laura, as a child of immigrants and an immigrant herself, has a lot of experience with tough topics.

She’ll share that experience in a two-part workshop, Teaching Tough Topics at THV’s upcoming summer institute! Joining her are Christine McCartney and Ginny McCurdy, ELA teachers at Newburgh Free Academy, and Kathy Wurster, a social studies teacher at Washingtonville HS. 

When I ask Laura what exactly teachers who come could expect, she described the focus as “how to have civic discourse.” She also wants to “give them the right tools to not only understand these topics, but also have different ways to bring about that conservation….”

As someone who loves to delve into the controversial and into sometimes tough topics, it’s hard for me to understand why it’s hard for others, especially teachers, who have such a good opportunity to speak about such things. Laura thinks it’s because “with everything that’s happening in the world… it’s very intimidating. We’ve heard [that some teachers] don’t even know if they should talk about certain topics.”

Kathy Wurster (center) with her students

When I talk about these things, I don’t have anyone I’m accountable to; teachers do. They have to consider all of the different backgrounds and lives of their students. They also have to think about the families and communities students come from, including religion and political affiliation. Teachers could very well experience backlash for what and how they teach.

Laura stresses that the teachers who have done this training and who implement it in their classroom, amaze her. She also learns something new from working and learning with teachers.

Participants in this workshop will explore questions like, “What kind of environment do you want to create in your classroom?” and “What do you want to prepare your students for?” In a world that can be cruel and unforgiving to those that are different or who want to challenge societal expectations, it’s important to equip both teachers and students to face it with grit.  

Laura and her peers have given this workshop to teachers in multiple school districts and are proud to create a “web of information and encouragement.” Anyone who participates in this workshop joins into this web and helps to foster its growth!

Kelly Escarcega is a recent graduate of John Brown University in Arkansas. She is spending the summer with THV as part of the National Park Service Academy, Student Conservation Association, and AmeriCorps.