Ottoson Day Celebrates “Belonging” with Speakers, Workshops

It is a very special time when an entire school comes together to celebrate Belonging, this year’s Ottoson Day theme that was held on May 19. The day was devoted to coming together in a variety of ways. All the students attended a keynote address given by the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Scituate Public Schools jamele adams. The message centered on the theme, and urged the attendees to understand and embrace their authentic selves. During the speech, randomly chosen students were on hand to paint their depiction of what they heard.

Workshops brought the young people together in small groups. The 33 different sessions available were grouped into eight categories: Sports & Movement, Culture & Identify, Culinary, Arts-Crafts-Creations, Nature, Leadership & Self Awareness, Pop Culture, and Quiet Reading. Every effort was made to make sure each person got at least their first choice.

Students interested in moving could choose to dance, play basketball, or participate in energetic yoga. There were workshops that explored identity, being bi-racial and multi-ethnic, what emotional intelligence means, and the power of dehumanizing words.Those interested in cooking (and eating!) could prepare breakfasts from around the world or make a French dish. There were opportunities to collaborate and connect through art projects, to work in the makerspace, and to pursue friendship crafts. The Animal Library was on hand so students could meet and learn about amphibians,insects, and reptiles. Other workshops explored how to be a leader, how to affect change, and the different forms of connection. Slam poetry, music that calls for action, and karaoke were all available as was time to just take a break and read a book. And there was much more!

Each student attended two workshops. Eight of the workshops were led by outside facilitators such as Dwayne Brown from the Boston Public Health Department and Ray Porch, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Burlington Public Schools and Dr. Richard Booth, Psychologist at Brown University.The others were led by Ottoson teachers and APS Administrators including Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Homan and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Roderick MacNeal, Jr.

The State of the Union address, given by Eric Washington, Diverse and Culturally Responsive Manager at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education brought everyone together as a large group. All students were also able to hear from a panel of their peers including four OMS eighth graders and two METCO students/OMS alumni now at Arlington High School. Discussion centered around their experiences at OMS and included questions on racism, things that could be improved, and the advice the panelists had for incoming OMS and AHS students, among other topics..

After the formal activities, the students dispersed to their ASPIRE groups to debrief and complete a survey. Organizer Richelle Smith, Director of Arlington METCO, reports that the students “...raved about the workshops.” The peer panel and the keynote were called out often, and Ms. Smith observes that “Students truly enjoyed being with their friends and having a nontraditional School Day.” 

Creating and executing Ottoson Day was a collaborative effort. OMS Principal Brian Meringer and 8th Grade Assistant Principal Julia MacEwan joined Ms. Smith as primary Ottoson Day organizers. Director of Diversity, Equality, Inclusion, Belonging, and Justice Margaret Credle Thomas assisted in procuring the outside facilitators and speakers, School Counselors Mandi Bistran, Ron Colosi, Lauren Jorgensen, and Nanci Siegel organized the student-based rosters. Others stayed late to make sure the day ran smoothly and helped with set-up and clean-up. The event was funded by an FY23 METCO grant.

This was the second year that Ottoson Day has taken place with the goals of creating an experience where the students can be their authentic selves and discover a better sense of belonging and connection to their school community. Organizers are already talking about ideas to make it even better next year so that, in Ms. Smith’s words, “...Ottoson Day is an annual event students and teachers will look forward to.”