Inclusion Workshops Offer Time to Learn, Reflect, Relax, and Create a Culture of Belonging at AHS

Advisory blocks on April 4, 11, and 25 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 42 workshops ran all three weeks, and four were multi-session which the registrants attended two or three times in succession.

Planning and execution of this year’s Inclusion Workshops was led by AHS Library teacher and K-12 Lead Library teacher Stacy Kitsis, Special Education Team Chair Amanda Donohue, and Harvard School of Education graduate student and intern Cynthia Simpson along with 

AHS Principal Matthew Janger. Feedback was contributed by the AHS Advisory Committee.  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.

This year’s Keynote Speaker, spoken word poet and artist Matthew Thompson Jr., was suggested and secured by the APS Director of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, Belonging, and Justice Margaret Credle Thomas. During the keynote assembly he emphasized that words have tremendous power, and that positive writing and speaking can be used to change one’s circumstances. Mr. Thompson challenged the attendees to step outside their comfort zone and write some spoken word poetry right on the spot. Students were extemporaneously asked to perform their poems. The goal was to illustrate that promoting belonging means stepping outside of what feels comfortable to build and nourish new connections.

The workshops included a wide range of topics. Two of the three-part workshops were concerned with race. One used the documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay, named for the amendment abolishing slavery, to explore the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the US.and the other used episodes of the TV show Atlanta created by Donald Glover to spur discussion of the representation of the Black experience.There were workshops that explored activism through art and poetry, explored different cultures, and considered issues of gender and sexuality. Students could choose to relax with board and card games, learn to knit, or gain skills to decrease stress with coloring sheets and journal prompts. 

Workshops involving music, art creation, and dance with special guests were popular. One session involved the music of the Espirales Project Cuban Band, another was led by the celebrated autistic collage artist John Wiliams, Godfrey Muwulya got everyone moving in his African dance workshop, and Lumyr Derisier held one session on salsa dancing. Feedback from students indicate that the three-part Atlanta workshops, Connections with Older Adults and the Women and Queer Authors Book Club were also especially enjoyed.

Survey results indicate that the majority of students believed that the workshops were a valuable use of their time. In answer to the question “What is one thing you learned in your workshop you will use in the future?” the students answered:

  • “Never use only one learning style. The best thing you can do for yourself is learn using a combination of various styles.”
  • “Activism in art is important!”
  • “...the importance of supporting women, POC, and LGBTQ+ authors.”
  • “I learned how to play the Egyptian card game Basra, which my family really likes.”
  • To “make sure to check whenever I am using AI as to what its biases are.”