Food Drive a Glimpse into LODI's Efforts

Spontaneous Food Drive a Glimpse into LODI's Year-Long Efforts
Posted on 02/13/2019
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food donations collected at Central OfficeLakota schools may have been closed last Friday for inclement weather, but Central Office was bustling with volunteers - and mounds of canned goods.

After three consecutive days of no school, including school-provided breakfasts and lunches, Lakota’s Outreach Diversity and Inclusion (LODI) department organized a spontaneous food drive to provide emergency relief to 55 area families. Using staff email and the viral power of social media, the district put out a call for support and within just two hours, the front lobby at Central Office was overflowing with donations.


Several students, parents and community members answered the call differently, showing up to help box up the donations and personally deliver them to families.


“When I think about ‘WE are Lakota,’ this is what we get,” said Angie Brown, LODI’s coordinator of parent and family engagement and community outreach. “We put a call to action out and in just two hours, we got this show of support for our families and I just want to say thank you.”


Established last January, LODI was formed to enhance the district’s ongoing efforts to consistently provide all students with a safe, secure and supportive learning environment free from all forms of discrimination, harassment, and intimidation. The new group formalized and combined efforts of inclusion already underway at Lakota, including the the Champions for Change program led by Aisha Moore.


Lakota champions representing every Lakota school have dedicated their work over the last three years to promoting a culture of empathy and understanding in their building communities. The group convenes on a quarterly basis now to participate in cultural competency training delivered through guest speakers, coffee chats and even book studies. They then find way to infuse strategies that proactively celebrate diversity and promote inclusion in their own school communities.


The group is launching into a new phase that involves each champion leading regular professional development and training of all the staff at their respective schools. “We’ve essentially been following a train the trainer model. All of our work up to this point has been about equipping our champions with the knowledge to replicate the training they’ve received with all of their peers,” Moore said. “This is how we’ll literally multiply the impact of our work so far.”  


The footprint of the Champions is growing even bigger thanks to a new “Culturally Responsive Teacher” endorsement designed by LODI. Twenty-six additional Lakota staff members signed up to complete the intense coursework spanning eight months. The endorsement concludes with a hands-on project in which they will apply their learning to actually redesign their instructional practices or learning environment to be more culturally responsive and an example to their peers.


Under LODI falls a range of other formal district-wide programs proactively building community and promoting inclusion and cultural understanding among students, staff, parents and community members. These include the monthly CommUnity University sessions, Earth Day Celebration, Fellas & Fiction, Story Time with the Superintendent, Parade of Graduates, back-to-school summer bus tours and ice cream social for new families, just to name a few.


More difficult to measure is LODI’s reach into each of Lakota’s 23 schools, inspiring and supporting proactive community-building programs, both big and small. At Lakota West, for example, LODI has been the impetus behind a group of ESL students tasked with personally calling Lakota’s Spanish-speaking families to provide an update about Lakota, in their native language.


“The connection is the most important part of this work,” Brown said. “For once, they feel like part of their school community and can actually provide feedback. Plus, the kids feel like they’re serving a bigger purpose and like they’re part of the district. It’s really a win-win.”


At Independence Elementary, LODI facilitated a lesson around Black History Month with all students. They are also working on a model for welcoming families who join Independence throughout the school year. Similar to many of the multicultural nights they’ve helped get off the ground around Lakota, the group is helping coordinate a first-ever multicultural event spanning multiple West feeder schools.


At Shawnee, LODI is partnering with staff to create a more culturally responsive environment. “We are really focusing on more than just celebrating our diversity,” said Shawnee Principal Theresa Brock. “Teachers are looking more closely at what motivates and engages students through activities that are relevant and meaningful in their lives. This all begins with building relationships and getting out of our comfort zones!”


Oftentimes, the bulk of LODI’s work involves dropping into schools to simply help students, staff and parents navigate through sensitive situations and in the process, bridge cultural gaps and build stronger relationships. While it may be spontaneous or on an “as requested” basis, principals are noticing the results of their partnership with LODI.


“I feel so strongly about knocking down the invisible barriers, leveling the playing field for our students, and educating the whole child,” said Adena Elementary Principal John Mattingly. “The LODI team has connected us with many different and practical resources to support all of our kids. They’ve offered us an opportunity to look inward and reflect as educators, increase our empathy, and take risks.”


“LODI has been instrumental in helping us to bring multiple cultures, schools, and neighborhoods together,” said Woodland Elementary Principal John Wise. “LODI is a part of Woodland in so many ways and has been at the center of so many programs that ease student and parent access to our school. However, their willingness to listen and problem solve with our staff has been invaluable in helping to build a truly supportive culture.”


“At the building level, we work hard to reach out to our parents and be as accessible as possible,” said Hopewell Junior School Principal Jeff Rouff. “While we worked hard at doing so, it was the work of our LODI office that moved our efforts into very tangible results. The LODI teams cares about one thing: that the experience of all of our children is a positive and enriching one. Their support puts teeth to our efforts that every child and their family has a voice in their experience in Lakota.”