New Student Groups Focus on Diversity

New Student Groups Focus on Diversity
Posted on 02/09/2021
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student diversity group photosWhen Elgin Card joined the Lakota Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion (LODI) department as senior director in August, one of his first actions was the creation of student diversity groups at each of the district’s eight secondary schools. “I think it’s important to hear from the students’ mouths,” said Card. “They know what’s good and what’s bad. I want to know how they think we can improve and how we can amplify the good things we do.”

Card tapped into the knowledge of school administrators, counselors and teachers to invite students to be a part of the program. “I want students from all walks of life to be a part of this.” Currently, there are between 10-20 students in each group.

Caden Powels, an eighth grader at Hopewell Junior School, was excited to be asked to be a part of his school’s group. “It’s very uplifting to have a conversation with people from different races and to see their perspectives on diversity and inclusion,” he said. “The school is doing self-reflection (with this program) and trying to improve.”

At his first meeting, Card began by asking a lot of questions. “I wanted to collect data so I can get a better understanding of what (the students) see and experience in school.” The students completed a questionnaire that asked them to explain the benefits of diversity at Lakota and how the district can improve. He wasn’t surprised by the answers. 

The majority of responses said that diversity in the classroom is positive and that students want to learn more about different cultures. “I’m really thankful that we have the interaction in the classroom,” said Lakota East senior, Nathan Vollette. “All of my friends are different. There are so many different cultures in our classrooms.” Students would also like to see a more diverse staff, which is something that is a priority with both Card and Lakota’s human resources department.

Chelsea Afadzi is a member of the Lakota West group and hopes that they help spark conversation and change in some areas of her school. “In 2020 there were so many racial things that went on in the country,” the junior said. “We want to start the conversation, but also take action.” At West, the group is focusing on using the XH (extra help) period to educate students and start conversations about things like microaggressions in school, as well as educating students on different ethnic and racial backgrounds. “We need to start by spotlighting minorities who have accomplished great things,” she said. 

Schools throughout the district are doing just that during Black History Month, celebrating the accomplishments of Blacks during announcements and displaying posters around the school.

Diversity and inclusion is not just about race and religion. It also includes students with disabilities, gifted learners and socio-economic factors. At Lakota, 12% of the students have a disability, 31% are gifted and 20% are economically disadvantaged. Vollette is passionate about advocating for students with disabilities, especially learning disabilities, and sees this group as a step in the right direction. “I want there to be more student voice for kids on IEPs (individualized education plans),” he said. “Part of giving kids a voice is telling the kids what their situation is and that they’re a part of the decision - it’s not being decided for them.” Vollette believes that this would “show kids that an IEP doesn’t define you and you can thrive through the system.”

Card knows that Lakota is more diverse than most people realize. He’s also been pleased that students celebrate this fact. “The biggest conversations we’re having is wanting to learn more about different cultures - what affects their cultures that doesn’t affect others,” he noted.

“It’s really empowering to be a part of this,” said Afadzi. “As I grew older, I noticed that people tend to gravitate towards people who look like them and it became more transparent what a big thing race is,” she continued. “Ignoring it isn’t going to change it.” Afadzi would like to see more diverse content in the curriculum, including highlighting accomplishments by minorities.

Card is looking forward to the ideas these students will bring to the schools. “These kids are way beyond what we ever were - what they know, what they talk about, what they see as right and wrong,” he said. “Today, people aren’t afraid to speak out. This all helps our kids be more knowledgeable and more vocal, and more empathetic.”

Powels explains it this way: “You put a blindfold on and then get people from all different cultures to do the same. You have a great conversation with people you don’t know and then take the blindfold off. You see that everyone is different and everyone is human.”

Click here to watch a video and learn more about LODI and diversity at Lakota Local Schools.