After incidents of racial bias and religious intolerance became more frequent within the school district, administrators and students partnered to promote inclusivity through diversity and leadership training.
“There’s just been some incidents of racial insensitivity around our district. We’re doing our best to address that and be proactive, but also reactive,” said Superintendent of Schools Patrick Stirk.
“We want to make sure our kids are comfortable in our schools and have a voice if they do feel uncomfortable,” he said.
On March 28, a letter went out to the parents of high school students, addressing the issue. A shortened version was sent to all district guardians.
“In our national community, there have been a number of disturbing incidents involving racial bias and religious intolerance. Unfortunately, we too have experienced some such incidents within our schools,” Stirk said in the letter. “We are writing to reassure you that we take these incidents seriously, to reinforce our values as a school system, and to ask your partnership in this most important issue.”
Stirk said staff would be making it clear to students that they will be held accountable for disrespectful or hateful speech. Administrators are also planning positive messaging to help promote a more accepting school culture.
North Haven High School junior Zoi Burns is president of the Diversity Team, a club which seeks to promote “acceptance and love.” She said students in the club felt a growing tension at school and were compelled to do something to change it.
“It's been more common a little bit lately and we're just trying not to let what's going on outside in the world affect what happens inside of the school, and keep the school a safe environment and an accepting environment and an encouraging environment,” Burns said.
Last week, youth motivational speaker A’ric Jackson visited the high school to put on two class-wide assemblies and run a multi-day leadership seminar for a select group of students.
Burns said Diversity Team members attend Jackson’s annual conference in Canada, and when the team decided to do something to address the recent incidents, they thought of him.
“He's just relatable and you can connect with him … he gives us these experiences that just empower us and make us believe in ourselves,” Burns said.
Even students Burns didn’t expect to be moved by Jackson’s message left the talk impacted, she said.
Jackson travels the world to “teach, inspire and encourage” young people to help others and pursue their goals and dreams, according to his website. His current speaking programs include how to live through action instead of fear, and anti-bullying tactics.
Burns and Stirk both expressed their desire to see these conversations continue.
“To give everyone this opportunity would be monumental,” Burns said.
While there are no current plans for Jackson to return to North Haven, the State Educational Resource Center will help run future trainings for teachers and students, specifically at the elementary schools.
Students will be led through discussions about how to accept others’ differences and speak up if they hear comments that make them uncomfortable. Teachers will learn tools and skills needed to address discriminatory behavior.
This story was updated to reflect the corrected spelling of Zoi Burns’ name.
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