Schools looking for new ways to celebrate diversity
The Post Independent continues its occasional series looking at the impact of the area’s large immigrant population, this time focusing on the challenges and some of the success stories in Roaring Fork Schools.
Day 1 stories
Tomorrow: A look at school choice for second-language immigrant students.
When a group of mostly Latina students at Glenwood Springs High School formed a new club last year, the idea was to try to bring students from divergent backgrounds together to celebrate and promote understanding of their differences.
It was a great idea, and still is, says the core group of students who are actively trying to grow the GSHS Diversity Club to involve a more representative mix of the student body.
“The main focus of our club is to get students from different cultures and different backgrounds to come together as one,” said student club member Samantha Contreras.
“We want to help those who weren’t really acknowledged in the school before to feel proud, and to feel that they are recognized,” she said.
The struggle has been to take that concept and turn it into reality.
For now, the Diversity Club is lacking in one aspect of the very diversity it seeks to promote — broader ethnic representation.
At a recent lunchtime club meeting in faculty sponsor Kayla Thomson’s math classroom, 17 girls and three boys, all Hispanic, seem dedicated to making that happen.
They’re busy planning a regular game day at the school that will bring students together for a little friendly competition, camaraderie and socializing.
And the club is planning some fundraisers to send members to the Cherry Creek Diversity Conference in February. The annual conference includes discussions and different student presentations on ways schools can become more diverse.
“I feel like diversity is trying to get people from different backgrounds and cultures to come and be comfortable in their skin and not be ashamed of who they are, or where they were raised,” another student, Jazmin Borjas, said.
But she’s the first to point out that the club has not been as successful in attracting a more diverse membership as it would like. And it’s not just about ethnic diversity. It’s also about providing a place for students to talk about gender and LGBTQ issues, or just differences in general, Borjas and others in the club pointed out.
“A big part of diversity is just getting to know other people who are different than you, whether they look different, have different values, different beliefs, anything like that,” student Perla Lopez said.
“Even if another student looks like you, they might have different values, and that’s also part of diversity,” Lopez said.
Marcus Manibusan is one of just a handful of Latino boys in the Diversity Club.
“I see a lot of students here who still don’t feel like they belong, and we’re here to try to make it easier and safer for them,” Manibusan said. “We want to make it easier for them to have a better life.”
At Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, physical education teacher and coach Ken Woodard found a way to better integrate a student population that might otherwise gravitate into more segregated circles.
“One day, I saw a bunch of kids walking down the hall during lunch just looking kind of directionless,” Woodard said. “I thought, let’s give them something to do and invite some other students.”
That was the start of the school’s lunchtime intramural sports program, which includes a new sport every few weeks and teams of students who square off against each other, as well as teams made up of teachers and staff.
It’s proven successful in building school pride and developing a connection between students who come from some very different backgrounds.
Roaring Fork District schools as a whole are now made up of more than 50 percent Latino students, and 33 percent of the district’s students are classified as still learning English. Roaring Fork High is among the individual schools in the district that typically see even higher percentages of students from immigrant families.
“We’re up to 11 different intramural sports tournaments throughout the school year now,” Woodard said. Not only do students participate in the games directly, classmates often gather during lunch hour to watch the action.
Last year, Woodard convinced former RFHS principal Drew Adams to sponsor some T-shirts for the winning teams.
“It’s been a great way to give the kids something to do that’s fun and light, and it keeps them on campus during lunch,” he said. “They really like playing against the teachers, because if they beat us they can go back to class and brag.”
“The power of T-shirts is underestimated,” current RFHS Principal Brett Stringer said.
The intramural activities have created a school pride and sense of belonging that carries over to Roaring Fork High’s monthly “community meetings.”
“The goal is to highlight our kids, and to allow our kids to find ways to highlight themselves,” Stringer said.
The meetings usually feature a senior student speaker to talk about something that has inspired them, and student groups such as the jazz band or the folklorico dance group often perform.
It’s a similar approach at Glenwood Springs Middle School, said Principal Joel Hathaway.
There, the daily “crew” student meetings that are now commonplace in all Roaring Fork District schools focus on character development, school spirit and viewing fellow school mates as “family,” he said.
“We want all students to feel like this school really belongs to them, and to know that they are valued and respected and that they’re safe here,” Hathaway said. “Those are the things that help everyone feel at home in this school.”
The every-Friday “house meetings” at GSMS are also student-driven, allowing the students themselves to set the agenda, he said.
“We say our pledge in both English and Spanish, which was one of the ideas that came from the students themselves,” Hathaway said.
The school’s Rise Up Club has also provided a forum for “tolerance, respect for traditions, and culture,” similar to the high school’s Diversity Club, he said.