Inclusion Workshops Enthusiastically Received by Arlington High School Students and Staff

Advisories on April 6, 13, and 27 were extended an hour so that Arlington High School students could come together in a variety of ways to highlight and support diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the school community. The Inclusion Workshops and keynote address that took place on these days were designed to allow everyone to take a break from the usual routine to explore these topics through sharing and discussion. 

Over the three week period, students in all grades attended two one-hour workshops and one keynote assembly. The young people signed-up in advance, and every effort was made to enroll them in their preferences. Most of the 48 workshops ran all three weeks, and five were multi-session which the registrants attended two or three times in succession.

The AHS Inclusion Workshop Committee–Media Director and K-12 Lead Library teacher Stacy Kitsis, Special Education Team Chair Amanda Donohue, Millbrook Program Manager and History instructor Brian Buck, Harvard School of Education graduate student and Intern Patrick Stewart, and Principal Matthew Janger–was responsible for determining the topics, registering the students, and executing the workshops. Surveys, email requests, and conversations with students, teachers, administrators, and community members such as Arlington’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director Jillian Harvey were used to gather ideas on what topics to include and who might want to lead sessions.

Everyone at Arlington High School was involved in each of the three days. Teachers and staff were either workshop leaders, buddies, or hosts to outside speakers. Some handled coverage throughout the building, while others provided student support. Students, working with a teacher to handle logistics, led workshops as well. A one hour training session that reviewed the program goals, explained scheduling, communicated the workshop norms, and offered hints at presenting their material was open to all leaders.

The workshops covered a wide range of topics. Two three-part workshops used documentaries to promote learning and discussion:  13th, a film about the amendment abolishing slavery, was used to guide an exploration of the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the U.S. and Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, spurred conversations about the birth of the disability rights movements, the work that has been done, and what work remains. Activism and identity through art, poetry, and music were explored, as well as the female representation in media, French and Brazilian culture, reproductive rights, and gender and sexuality in the ancient world. Other sessions looked at antiracism, reparations, trans lives depicted on film, queer books, inclusion in sports, and implicit bias and microaggression. And there was much, much more.

Every student attended the keynote address, a message of love, inclusion, and trust presented by the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Scituate Public Schools jamele adams. jamele adams especially enjoys having students create artwork during his talks, so easels were set up along the stage behind the speaker. Volunteers came forward to participate, and the resulting works were then displayed in the Art wing of the high school. jamele adams also shared his message in an open workshop for the community on May 2.

Surveys were used to understand how all participants felt about the Inclusion Workshops and there was an opportunity for everyone to share their experiences during an Advisory debrief on May 3. Committee member Brian Buck reports that the feedback on all areas–organization, logistics, programming, and goals–was “overwhelmingly positive” from students and staff. The longer Advisory sessions were enjoyed and he states that “...the focus on inclusion was important to them.”  Mr. Buck also shares this:  “Students reported most positively on presentations that were interactive and allowed them the chance to engage with both their own story and the experiences of their peers. Students identified the element of choice as being central to their positive experience and asked for the choice model to be continued throughout the year in Advisory.”  

Based on what she observed by walking around and seeing the sessions in action, Ms. Kitsis concurs that the goals set for the day were met. She says she “...loves how there were so many different vibes and opportunities to explore, to meet people where they were at but also to stretch outside our comfort zones.” It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr. Buck reports that the feedback shows “Over 80% of our student body and 85% of our staff reported positively that they experienced belonging and that they felt the workshops promoted wellness effectively.”  

The positive energy created by the Inclusion Workshops is leading to thoughts for the future. Mr. Buck indicates that staff members have already come forward to express an interest in being part of a planning team for next year. Additionally, he shares that “Many staff members noted that they would like to see our Advisory programming transition to a similar workshop model, where student choice and voice are centered. Several staff members also commented that they would like to have some of our future Professional Development/training follow this format so they can learn more about their colleagues and form closer connections.”

Mr. Stewart’s internship ended shortly after the Inclusion Workshops were completed. His graduate study in the School Leadership Pathway Program has also ended, and he will be starting a new job as Head of Upper School at Dutchess Day School in Millbrook, New York in July.There is no doubt that what he learned as a member of the Inclusion Workshop Committee will be useful in the future.