Community Conversation Focuses on Building Inclusive Learning Environments

On January 25, the Arlington High School Discourse Lab was the location for the first Community Conversation of the year, hosted by the Arlington Public Schools LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Task Force in partnership with the Arlington LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission and the Arlington Human Rights Commission. These periodic gatherings are designed to bring students, caregivers, educators, and administrators together with the broader Arlington community for education, conversation, and empathy building.

The January Conversation focused on building inclusive learning communities. Dr. Mona Ford Walker, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, welcomed the attendees and encouraged everyone to “...listen deeply to what is shared…” and to “Listen to learn and to stretch your thinking.” She also remarked upon how l this community is  “special”–one where we “...embrace the differences that exist.” and that it is  “...our differences are what make us so special.” 

Dr. Ford Walker then turned the session over to a panel that included:  Brackett fourth grade teacher AC Calcaterra, Peirce Elementary School Librarian and Rainbow Alliance Administrator Renae Nichols, APS Director of Wellness Kim Visco, AHS Junior Jasper Fiorina, and AHS English teacher Justin Bourassa.

Molly Blaauw Gillis, Co-Chair of the Rainbow Commission and the Leadership Task Force along with Dr. Ford Walker said that the organizers wanted the audience to hear from several different  members of the APS community on this topic so that they could leave with a better understanding of the following:

  • What “inclusive” means to each person
  • What an inclusive learning space looks like, feels like, or sounds like to them
  • What small and even larger adjustments can be made to learning spaces to make them more inclusive
  • How students respond to inclusive learning materials and learning spaces
  • What they believe Arlington is doing well and right with regards to ensuring LGBTQIA+ students feel a sense of belonging and inclusion

Speaking for the group, Ms. Visco had this to share:  “I feel we as a panel felt the topic of inclusive learning environments is such an important discussion that it was necessary for the audience to hear the perspective of people in different roles across the district. Our panel included an elementary teacher, an elementary librarian, a high school teacher, a high school student, and a curriculum director. We were able to share varying perspectives about what an inclusive environment looks and feels like to us as well as how we create and maintain inclusive environments.”

While all the reflections provided by the panel were described as “impactful”, the student reflections resonated especially well with the audience. Jasper spoke about how important it is that all students feel they are in a safe and welcoming environment where they can be themselves.

The Community Conversation series is ongoing and the next one will be held on March 13 at 5:15 pm. Please check the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission web pages on the Town of Arlington website for more information.