Ep. 120: Meeting the Needs of Culturally and Neurodiverse Students with Juniette Kanga and Maria Kennedy

Feb 14, 2023 | 0 comments

What can we do to create more inclusive communities where students’ needs are met? This conversation needs to be had and is probably the most important conversation we’ve had on the Diverse Thinking Different Learning Podcast to date. There is a lot to unpack here, but today’s guests show us that every journey and every discussion has a first step and they’re here to help us take it.

Maria Kennedy and Juniette Kanga join me today to talk about the intersection between ethnicity and neurodiversity. Through their own experiences as educators, parents, and their own unique cultural differences, they share the ways they’ve learned the biases, both conscious and unconscious, in the education system. But more than just saying there’s a problem, Maria and Juniette have taken the next step in helping others understand and creating communities where culturally diverse and neurodiverse individuals can come together.

This will not be the last we’ll hear from Maria and Juniette and the work they do.


Show Notes:

[3:35] – There is so much to unpack. Every journey starts with one step and we have to take the first step in understanding.

[5:03] – In Maria’s experience, if children and teens of color do not excel in athletics, their strengths and challenges aren’t always acknowledged.

[6:47] – Learning differences and neurodiversity are so common and yet still misunderstood.

[8:50] – In education, we have a deficit model. Teachers are taught to look for things children can’t do.

[10:37] – Remediation is very restrictive. If the focus is remediation, we miss out on engagement and identifying needs.

[12:09] – Children are not broken and they do not need to be fixed. One size fits all does not work in education.

[13:50] – Remediation is important and impactful, but it isn’t enough on its own.

[14:46] – At the symposium Maria hosted, she had students speak about their experience and the lessons they spoke about were the ones in which they felt valued.

[16:35] – As a community, we have a responsibility to encourage the growth and development of all people in the community.

[17:23] – Juniette joins the conversation and shares how different is equally as beautiful.

[19:01] – Some companies are tapping into creative, outside-of-the-box thinking and cultural differences to move things forward.

[20:36] – As parents, we are constantly trying to protect our children and sometimes that holds them back.

[21:54] – Educators need to be aware of their biases to properly help every child.

[23:27] – Maria shares a story about her own three year old son being sent out of the classroom for refusing to complete an assignment that was too easy.

[26:29] – Even as a supporter of public schools, Maria knew that it wasn’t the right fit for her exceptional learner.

[28:16] – Education needs to be culturally aware and look at the needs of everyone in the classroom.

[29:50] – Some children are ostracized for asking questions.

[31:18] – Adults need to ask more questions and take the step in understanding.

[33:17] – It is common for teachers to not want to differentiate instruction as it is more work.

[34:54] – Culturally, there is a hesitation to accept a child’s giftedness.

[36:57] – Teacher training and education needs to be stronger so teachers can see the signs of learning differences.

[38:16] – Strength-based education is best for all students.

[39:44] – Teachers also need to know the impact they have on their students and their drive to learn.

[41:52] – Maria and Juniette’s goals are to empower you. They have cross-cultural pods for discussions and resources.


About Our Guests:

Juniette Kanga, M. Des, is a mother of five children and a doctoral student at Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity. She holds a graduate certificate in twice exceptional education, is a trained Social Emotional Needs for the Gifted (SENG) facilitator and a North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) 2022 – 2023 fellow, a role she recently ventured into in supporting interests based learning for non-traditional learners, such as homeschooled and twice-exceptional children. She is the founder of a consultancy to support parents like her advocacy and education.


Maria M. Kennedy first joined the Bridges Academy staff as the Director of Phoenix. After successfully growing the program each year, she has taken on the position of Director in the Bridges Educational Group. Speaker, author, and advocate Maria has been an educator for almost 30 years. Maria received her B.Ed. and M.Ed. in education from Manchester University. She earned Advanced Teacher Status from the Manchester Department of Education for her ability to develop curriculum and her skills within the classroom. She traveled internationally, teaching students and training teachers how to tap into the strengths of their gifted and challenged students. Maria believes that effective educators must continue to learn and grow as a person. With this in mind, she constantly reads and works closely with leading educators in the field of 2E education. 


Connect with Maria and Juniette:

Links and Related Resources:


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The Diverse Thinking Different Learning podcast is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or legal advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, the views and opinions expressed by the host and guests are not considered treatment and do not necessarily reflect those of ChildNEXUS, Inc or the host, Dr. Karen Wilson.