The educators responsible for turning out a new class of teachers at Fort Hays State University, and a few local K-12 administrators, gathered on campus Tuesday afternoon for a panel discussion of the challenges school districts face helping students with culture and language barriers. The focus was on career readiness and transition for post-secondary education.

Panelists were Randy Watson, Kansas commissioner of education; Bryan Wilson, Wichita USD 259 transition coordinator; and Hector Villanueva, FHSU multicultural admissions counselor.

Amber White, FHSU coordinator of diversity affairs, served as the moderator.

The panel was sponsored by the College of Education and Department of Teacher Education.

The goal is “to basically open up our doors to everyone,” Paul Adams, dean of the FHSU College of Education, said in his welcome.

Watson said the topic was a passion of his, and something he often thinks about.

He told a story of a student he recently met who was interested in science and physics, and planned to be a certified nursing assistant. She expected to get some training, but “CNA was her limit of what she could see.”

Watson said often students who have culture and language barriers see entry level positions as their limit rather than a beginning.

“Everything comes back to family, Villanueva said.

The student’s mom, dad, cousin, whoever is important to them, must “understand that education is the only thing right now that will get them out of the system.”

All of the panelists emphasized the importance of mentors and role models.

“We all want to feel we’ve established an identity,” Wilson said. “Anywhere we go, we want to see someone who looks like us.”

Watson doesn’t advocate creating separate systems for those with cultural and language barriers.

“The more we create alternative systems or additional systems outside the norm, (the more) we’re sending a signal that those kids are truly not as valuable as the core (education) kids. Every kid has value, and we should be able to adapt the system to that child, not put the child in another system.”

The event was hosted by the FHSU Kansas National Education Association Student Program and FHSU Council for Exceptional Children Student Chapter.