In these turbulent times divided by political rancor and divisive opinions, the Everyone Belongs Project of the Forest Lake Area has brought a large group of community members together, setting aside our different opinions and political views to create a vision and action steps for a community where everyone truly belongs.
The communities served by the school district are more culturally and ethnically diverse today than they were ten years ago and will be even more diverse ten years from now. These demographic shifts provide opportunities and challenges for our communities and schools. Every day, students learn along with students from different backgrounds and experiences. They share classrooms, the music hall, theater, and sports teams with students who are different from themselves. When relationships are built, students begin to learn from each other and understand each other’s perspectives and experiences.
Immediately at hand for the school district is the work to create a more inclusive and culturally responsive school system for our students. For the sake of all students, students of color and white students, we must expand our learning materials to broadly include the histories, cultures, leaders and artists from communities of color. This includes the stories students read, the music students perform, and the discussions, speeches, and debates students have in our classrooms.
Forest Lake Area Schools hold dear the value that every student deserves to walk our halls and learn in our classrooms without being subject to hateful or racist language. When listening to current and former students this summer, I heard stories of enduring hateful slurs and in some cases, the “N” word from other students. Students shared times when fellow classmates chanted “build a wall” at them, or go home to where you came from. The students shared that they have many of the same experiences in places in our community.
Racial justice and equity is community work. It is the work of our schools, city leaders, business owners, the faith community, parents, and each member of our community.
Everyone Belongs, a joint project from the Forest Lake Area School District, the YMCA of the North Equity Innovation Center, the Forest Lake YMCA, Lake Center for Youth and Families and area cities and townships. Last fall, the Everyone Belongs Project sponsored three learning sessions. Over 100 community members came together to learn about The Hidden Brain and Unconscious Bias, Dimensions of Diversity, and Cultural Lens. These topics allowed the participants to gain a deeper understanding of culture and diversity and how we might work collectively to create a community where everyone belongs. This summer, the Everyone Belongs Project held four community conversations and three sessions on implicit bias with over 300 participants sharing ideas, concerns, hopes, and dreams.
The Everyone Belongs Project is currently hosting the Equity Innovation Lab to continue to create communities where everyone belongs. This action based work began on September 26th with a vision session attended (virtually) by 50 community members and educators. The next sessions will establish action steps to:
Create a welcoming and inclusive community.
Increase intercultural awareness and leadership.
Expand intercultural competence as it relates to our community and school district.
Enhance the school district’s and community’s culture that supports diversity, equity and inclusion.
Provide a strategic structure for creating inclusive communities.
Foster intercultural relationships both internally and externally.
Please plan to join us for these upcoming sessions:
- Lab Session 1: October 13, 7-9 p.m.
- Lab Session 2: October 20, 7-9 p.m.
- Lab Session 3: November 10, 7-9 p.m.
- Lab Session 4: November 17, 7-9 p.m.
Each session is held virtually and you visit the website at flaschools.org/innovationlab to sign up.
We have crucially important work to do. We are educating tomorrow’s leaders and citizens and creating vibrant communities where everyone belongs.
Steve Massey is the Superintendent of Forest Lake Area Schools.