In 1998, the Brattleboro Union High School Diversity Education program was started after a black baby doll was burned in the fire during a football game and a confederate flag was hung in the gym. Since then, the program’s focus has been based on building a diverse-inclusive community that has become part of the fabric of the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union. Diversity and equity work — ignited out of necessity from the local community — has been supported by the administration, students, and teachers.
Although the inception of the diversity program sprang out of specific racist incidents, the program rooted itself with delivering programming and mentoring to students of various backgrounds, orientations, religious affiliations, and race. The program impacts students across the entire district in addition to its work at BUHS.
At last month’s school board meeting discussing the budget and the possible elimination of my diversity coordinator position, some asked, “Who is she? What [does she] do?”
Primarily, I am a mentor and a social-justice educator who supports families, administrators, teachers, and students toward equity in schools. This responsibility goes far beyond issue-based work; it is an attempt to create a community with a more-equitable environment for all students through programming, education, curricular changes, and group and personal interactions.
Social justice and diversity programming is not just about discussing the world we live in and assessing our challenges; it is also about creating the world in which we would like to live.
A good example of this concept — and also the wide reach of the diversity program — took place on Jan. 25 when the WSESU Diversity Equity Committee held our first annual Winter Performance Showcase. This year, we featured the Oak Grove Blues Grove and the Academy Drama Club.
The showcase was open to every student in the district to eat dinner, attend the show, and/or perform a work, finished or in progress, for the community.
This event serves as an example of programming that enables students of all backgrounds and ability to perform together and see what is happening at other schools across the district.
At the school board meeting on Jan. 7, more than 50 people filled the Cusick Conference Room at the Windham Regional Career Center to discuss the importance of diversity and social justice in our schools, which serve all children. This work particularly supports marginalized students but benefits all students.
The community came together. People stood up to support a position and a program that supports marginalized students.
That is solidarity!