Hindu and Sikh Community Involvement Fuels Maryland Program's Success

04/17/2015 12:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015

Last year I wrote about how the Hindu/Sikh teacher-training workshops in Montgomery County Public Schools could be a template for teacher education across the country.

Since then the program has grown within Montgomery County, Maryland, galvanizing two communities that have been part of the region's social fabric for decades, while allowing teachers to become more comfortable and empowered in teaching about Hinduism and Sikhism, the world's third- and fifth-largest religions, respectively.

On Thursday the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the Kaur Foundation, and Sikh Kid 2 Kid kicked off the third Hindu/Sikh training and immersion program, which includes a pedagogy and awareness training, and subsequent visits to local Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras.

The program has allowed for several major innovations in the way religion is taught about in Montgomery County. For starters, it has allowed Hindu and Sikh community members who are raising or have raised Montgomery County Public Schools students to have a greater voice in how their traditions are presented within the context of the classroom. This strive for self-definition is vital, as many Hindu Americans have long noted the misrepresentation of their faith in textbooks, and many Sikh Americans have felt marginalized or left out of the discussions of major world religions.

Most of the teachers we have trained rave about the amount of information they learn through the program and have incorporated the information in their classrooms. But these trainings really need the support of a school district, which is why the Montgomery County Public Schools curriculum team has been vital in implementing, promoting, and sustaining such an effort.

In addition to the education organizations, community partners have stepped up to volunteer their time and open their doors to host the immersion part of the trainings. Hindu cultural centers such as the Chinmaya Mission (which has hosted the pedagogy trainings from the start of the program), the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, and Sikh gurdwaras such as the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation and Guru Nanak Foundation have rolled out the red carpet to make sure teachers have the most beneficial immersion experience.

For me, the training has been especially rewarding, as the Sikh community in Montgomery County has welcomed me (and HAF) with open arms in partnership. I've had the great opportunity to participate in a Sikh service and learn about their traditions; likewise, Sikh community partners have remarked at how at home they felt at the Chinmaya Mission.

The responses from both Sikhs and Hindus to having a participatory relationship with the school district is a strong sign that such efforts can -- and should -- be replicated in other parts of the country. Even in Maryland, neighboring counties have sought to have a similar program put into place, both as a response to their growing Hindu and Sikh communities and as a means of embracing proactive, culturally sensitive teaching environments.

Hopefully, the continuation and growth of programs like this will provide schools and teachers the resources and confidence they need to adapt to rapidly diversifying communities.