Conference Encourages Self-Reflection, Inclusion

West Freshman I.D. Student Conference Encourages Self-Reflection & Inclusion
Posted on 05/21/2019
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students simulating using scissors as if they had cerebral palsyA first-ever school-wide conference at Lakota West Freshman School this week encouraged both personal reflection and observation of others’ differences - all to build a stronger culture of inclusion and understanding.

“I have been trying all year to think of a meaningful way to reach our students about different issues that they are facing and this was the final product of that thought process,” said West Freshman teacher Jennifer Parrett, who also serves as the school’s “Champion for Change” through Lakota’s Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion (LODI) department. With this title comes a constant devotion to creating opportunities that promote inclusion.

“It is important because we have groups of students who feel marginalized and are looking for a voice to express themselves or find resources to learn about others not like themselves,” Parret continued.

Over the course of an hour, students attending the I.D. Student Conference could choose from four of eight different sessions, some designed to educate students about individuals and groups different from themselves. One such session literally put students in the shoes of people who are wheelchair-bound or struggling with disorders like dyslexia and cerebral palsy, creating activities that simulated the challenges they face. Another spotlighted survivors of the Holocaust.

Other sessions helped arm students with strategies for remaining true to themselves, while still respecting the differing opinions of others. LODI, for example, facilitated one such activity in which students had to agree or disagree with a series of statements. Afterward, the group openly discussed their observations, drawing conclusions about how the activity simulated their daily interactions.

Freshman Morgan Halstead participated in another session that challenged her to make a mask that represented how she sees herself versus how others see her. “It made me think about who I am on the inside and that you should always try to be yourself and not think about stereotypes,” she said.

Similarly, other sessions helped link students with resources that might help them or a friend needing guidance. One focused on strategies of mindfulness and awareness to overcome negative thinking, while another provided resources on understanding the LGBTQIA+ community. The Hope Squad organized a session where students could create their own stress balls and the district led a session all about internship opportunities to help students zoom in on future career possibilities.

The themes were chosen to try to reach as many students and interests as possible,” Parrett said.

Pictured: One session at West Freshman School’s recent I.D. Student Conference gave students a taste of the challenges associated with mundane tasks, like using scissors with cerebral palsy (pictured above), reading with dyslexia or getting up a ramp in a wheelchair, for example.