Cornell College Professor researches cultural clashes in junior high classrooms

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MOUNT VERNON, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Adjusting to school can be difficult when you move into a new town, especially if you're a minority.

A recently published study here in eastern Iowa says its each school district's job to adjust to students, not the student to the school.

Cornell College Professor Jill Heinrich looked specifically into a demographic shift in one Iowa junior high. For confidentiality reasons, she's not saying which school she researched.

"In the late 90s, I think they had 15 percent minority population. And by 2006 that had shifted to 40 percent," she said.

Heinrich says by 2006, the school was in crisis, teachers didn't know how to handle students. Heinrich says tardiness caused extreme frustration for teachers, students and even parents.

"Many of the new students were habitually late to class, and teachers were getting upset. It was seen as a sign of disrespect, so they were giving detentions quite a bit. And students were getting upset and felt they were doing nothing wrong," she said.

Eventually the school asked students why they were late to class. Turns out, the students said they weren't use to switching classrooms during the school day.

"Because it wasn't safe and they didn't have any experience with this sort of structure," Heinrich said.

Heinrich says this issue was resolved after teachers switched their mindsets.

"To understand and look at it where the students come from, and try to help them rather in their words, 'fix them or change them to fit into their school culture," she said.

Although Heinrich only researched one junior high, she says this issue happens in several communities across Iowa. The Cedar Rapids Community School District is in he midst of reforming discipline policies. That's after a federal investigation revealed the district is disproportionately punishing students of color.

Heinrich says students and teachers need to agree on the school's cultural values. And together, they can build a sense of community.