Sikh Students and Cultural Awareness

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Sikh Students and Bias Incidents

Sikh Student Studying
Sikh Student Studying. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

Sikh Students and Turbans

Many Sikh students wear turbans to school. The Sikh Student in this photograph is wearing style of turban called a Patka.

Sikh children, born to Amritdhari Sikh parents, have long hair which has never been cut since birth. By the time they are school age, the hair of the Sikh child may have grown past their shoulders to the waist or even to the knees in length.

A Sikh child's hair is combed, perhaps braided, and wound into a joora, a kind of topknot secured beneath a protective head covering such as a patka, before going to school.

Bias Incidents Involving Sikh Students at School

Though United States law protects all students civil and religious liberties, many Sikh students endure verbal torment and physical assaults at school because of their turbans. Studies released in 2006 by the Sikh Coalition show that:

  • More than fifty percent of Sikh students have been subjected to ridicule by classmates.
  • About thirty percent of Sikh students who report incidents to faculty members are ignored.
  • Close to forty percent of Sikh students wearing turbans to school have been the target of persecution involving bodily assault.
  • Three quarters of these are boys.

Sometimes when Sikh students are victimized by crimes in schools, such as a California Sikh boy who had his nose broken by a classmate, the assailants are prosecuted without the incident being reported to the media. Several occurrences involving the turbans and hair of Sikh students in Queens, New York, have been highlighted by the media due to the extremity of the episodes and regularity with which such happenings occur while at school.

  • A Sikh student had his patka set on fire by other students.
  • A Sikh girl had several inches of her braid cut off by a classmate.
  • A Sikh student had his turban removed, and his long hair forcibly cut by other students.
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Sikh Students and Civil Rights

Sikh Student at Storytime
Sikh Student at Storytime. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

The Sikh Student in this picture is wearing a chunni, a type of traditional scarf, over her turban. She is fortunate to be in a safe and nurturing classroom environment, where expression of her religious sentiment is encouraged.

Not all Sikh students are so fortunate. It's important that Sikh students and their parents are aware of their civil rights regarding bias and safety issues in public schools. Federal Law prohibits discrimination due to race, religion, ethnic or national origin.

Every student has the right to be free of bias related psychological and physical harassment by

  • Other students
  • Teachers
  • Faculty members and staff
  • The school board and district

Students should be encouraged to report civil rights violations to teachers and administrators. A School is obligated to take whatever steps necessary to end episodes of discrimination and harassment, or be held liable.

Obtaining a psychological evaluation from a licensed family therapist, for a student subject to harassment, may be a valuable tool to gain a school districts co-operation, as it is documentation which can be used in court. (Check community services for free evaluation, or sliding scale fee.)

Every student is guaranteed the right while at school to practice the religious belief of their choice. A Sikh student has the right to express their faith in the Sikh religion by

  • Wearing a turban and other religious articles of faith
  • Be excused for observance of religious holidays
  • Participate in religious extra curricular school activities and clubs

Talk about it

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Teachers and Sikh Students

Sikh Student and Teacher
Sikh Student and Teacher. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

Teachers have a unique opportunity to provide a Sikh student with a positive learning environment. This photograph shows a teacher interacting with her students, one of whom is a Sikh.

Education is a very powerful tool for promoting cross cultural understanding and reducing bias incidents. Teachers, who encourage students to feel comfortable participating in class activities by making them feel welcome, ensure a positive experience for the entire classroom. Teachers help students accept each other when classmates are taught that the differences making each of them unique, are interesting, and valuable to the diverse society which makes up America.

Understanding Sikh Culture

Topics on the Sikhism Site:

Classroom Presentations:

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Parents of Sikh Students

Sikh Students and Parents with Teacher
Sikh Students and Parents with Teacher. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

A Sikh parent and students pose with a teacher in the classroom while another parent snaps their photograph. Sikh parents who get involved with their child's education, help students to be in the best position to receive a quality education in a positive learning atmosphere.

Prevent Potential Problems

It's good idea for parents to make an appointment to meet with a students teacher and principal. Introduce students to the faculty and familiarize the school staff with Sikh religious requirements to avoid any possibility of misunderstandings.

Homework Help

Doing homework assignments is essential for a students academic success. Students who are multi-lingual may have special needs, especially if parents are not fluent in English. Your student may be eligible for free tutoring, or benefit from free online tutoring and educational sites:

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Sikh Students and Lunchtime

Sikh Student and Classmate at Lunchtime
Sikh Student and Classmate at Lunchtime. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

All students regardless of age look forward to lunchtime, recess time or break time. Younger students are more likely to run and play, while older students like to hang out and talk. The Sikh student in this photograph is enjoying a special lunch with a friend.

Inevitably the time will come when students will swap food items or trade lunches with school mates as a way of bonding with friends, or just to experiment. A Sikh student who is conscious of looking different because of dressing unusually, or wearing a turban, may feel compelled to fit in by eating whatever is popular with other students.

Check with students often to see if they are trading food, or even tossing out items that parents took care to prepare, and to be sure there isn't a favorite food they are missing out on. Students may come up with suggestions based on what their friends are taking for lunch. Make sure the student is getting proper nutrition needed to fuel proper growth and energy required for study. Invite students to help with shopping and lunch preparation to insure that they are happy and that lunch time is enjoyable. Consider occasionally packing something extra the student can share with friends.

Students may ask for lunch money to buy a school lunch or snack items from the cafeteria or vending machines. Find out what the cafeteria offers for lunch so that the student is not disappointed, and so that any special food requirements are met. Some parents who are unhappy with school menus have worked with schools to change the menu and provide healthier lunches.

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Sikh Students and Classroom Parties

Sikh Students and Classroom Party
Sikh Students and Classroom Party. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

Classroom parties are an important part of A Sikh students successful socialization with classmates providing a relaxing atmosphere, and fostering acceptance of differences. The Sikh students framed in this photograph are obviously have a great time. Even the camera angle captures the fun, hinting at the photographers festive frame of mind. Birthdays are a great opportunity for the Sikh student to share enjoyment in a meaningful way with classmates, and for parents to get to know their students teachers a little better.

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Sikh Students and Classroom Projects

Sikh Student and Classroom Project
Sikh Student and Classroom Project. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

Sikh Student and Classroom Project

The Sikh Student in the photograph appears happily involved in a classroom project, well adjusted to the scholastic environment and proud of her appearance. Encouraging students to participate in activities before school, during class time, and after school, can help develop extra curricular interests, self confidence, and even leadership abilities.

Students who are not at ease with themselves could be more likely to be targeted by teasing, bullying, and other bias related incidents. It is important that Sikh students wearing turbans to school feel comfortable about their distinctive appearance, proud of their visible identity, understand they have the right to be unique, and realize that they are not alone.

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Sikh Student School Assemblies and Family

Sikh Student and Sixth Grade Symphony
Sikh Student and Sixth Grade Symphony. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

The Sikh student in this photograph is a budding violinist performing at a school concert. Sikh students who wear turbans stand out at school. Sikh Families who attend after school activities and assemblies provide support to their student who may be the only visible Sikh in the classroom, or even in the school.

Cultural arts are a growing area of interest for Sikhs around the world. Parents who are involved in a students scholastic experience, encourage the students interests and help build self confidence. The violin is just one of many stringed instruments which may be integrated to accompany kirtan, the sacred music of Sikhs, in classical raag.

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Sikh Student and Friendship Mural

Sikh Student and Friendship Mural
Sikh Student and Friendship Mural. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

The Sikh student in this photograph receives a graduation diploma and handshake congratulating him for successfully completing 5th grade.

The mural at the center depicts a school policy of promoting cross cultural awareness and diverse ethnic acceptance.

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Sikh Student and Peace Lantern Walk

Sikh Student and Peace Lantern Walk
Sikh Student and Peace Lantern Walk. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

The Sikh student in this photograph participates with her class in an endeavor to eliminate hatred in the hallways. The students walk through the corridors of the school carrying peace lanterns made by them in the classroom.

Promote Peace