As the dark storm travels through our towns this afternoon, we take a pause to contemplate the storm of pain and anguish felt by all in our nation following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as well as other racially motivated incidents around the nation. Both the peaceful protests and the violent ones demonstrate that we are a nation divided. At Lenape Regional High School District, we stand in solidarity with all those grieving, aware that their grief is not new and find a sliver of hope knowing that we can influence the hearts and minds of our students who will help unify us.
We believe in education’s foundational potential to support healing, to build bridges and to cultivate leaders who can challenge social and racial inequalities and build a better tomorrow. Every generation looks to the next for those leaders.
We are here to support our students by listening with empathy and directing their energy towards meaningful dialogue and activities, as they will be the next leaders in whatever path they choose. We hope they use their voice and their influence to champion for equity, inclusion and peace. We hope that they find courage to have difficult conversations and seek to understand backgrounds and perspectives that are foreign to their own, recognizing that what makes us different also makes us stronger.
Dialogue about race, and particularly our country’s painful history of racism, is challenging, but we must persist. As Brene Brown said, “To not have the conversations because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege … comfort is not at the center of this discussion.”
At LRHSD, we have a framework for supporting our students and staff in challenging racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and all forms of bigotry. Our nationally-recognized No Place for Hate program is rooted in the strong relationship we have with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Under the umbrella of this program, we engage our school community in initiatives that promote inclusive learning environments and help build a sense of community and pride. Some examples of these proactive measures include Peer Leadership Training, Cultural Proficiency Training, Leadership Academies, Anti-Bias Training, and our award-winning Step Up and ID Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) program. Learn more at lrhsd.org/Domain/62.
Our membership in the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium of Excellence and Equity since 2004 and our current membership in the New Jersey Consortia for Excellence through Equity has provided our staff and students with professional development opportunities on equity and how to eliminate bias and bullying. Furthermore, all new LRHSD teachers receive mandatory training that includes equity topics such as cultural proficiency. We also recently joined Kean University’s Diversity Council. Through our partnership with Kean, several LRHSD staff members earned graduate credits on “Teaching Prejudice Reduction” and have begun training their LRHSD colleagues. Learn more about our equity initiatives by visiting lrhsd.org/Page/10878.
We are proud of our ongoing commitment to truly be a “No Place for Hate,” because we know that words are powerful, but we need to combine those with action to truly influence systemic change. We also are aware that our work and discussions about racism and all forms of discrimination must be ongoing, because the reality is that these issues never go away although they may not always be apparent to all of us all of the time.
While the incidents of violence and hatred are tragic reminders of our collective failings, we must move forward with the hope that our students and our community as a whole can be a model for leading with courage and kindness.
Although we are currently a “virtual school,” we will continue to help our students develop the understanding and the tools they need to lead us toward a brighter future. We look forward to doing even more when we are back together.
Carol L. Birnbohm