BRIDGES: Building Relationships Including Diversity Gaining External Support

Our school’s Unity Week reinvented

A guest blog post by Julie Kasper, assistant principal at Century High School (CHS) in Hillsboro, OR

After conducting a long-needed audit of our school’s activities offerings and events for students during fall of 2017, the process and outcome confirmed what we already knew. Although there is always room for improvement, our special events weeks are solid, our dances continue to increase in attendance, and assemblies continue to entertain and evolve to meet the needs of our ever-changing teenage clientele. With equity in mind, we have updated traditions involving courts and removed gender from the equation. For elections, we use a scoring system where the student vote only counts for 25 percent of a candidate’s overall score. In short, we have leveled the playing field, and we’ve made sure that our student council is representative of all of our students.

The audit also highlighted areas for improvement, leading us to ask the “why” behind a handful of our events. The student leaders were in agreement: Our coed pageant/scholarship program needed to go. It lacked participants and recruiting was becoming harder; it didn’t pull a crowd and thus didn’t achieve its No. 1 goal, which was to fundraise for our local hospital. We knew this event’s replacement needed to reach our students. We wanted to provide our school community (adults included) with a way to connect to each other, a way to build relationships, and a way for individuals to tell their stories.

After a couple months of brainstorming, we decided to create a “Unity Week” that honored the diversity in our school. Each day would have a theme with different activities in which students could participate.

On Monday, we focused on Inclusion. During lunches, students could visit the compliment wall booth and write compliments to their fellow students and staff members. This booth remained open for the rest of the week, during which the written compliments hung in the school. We had a team of students working behind the scenes to ensure every student received a compliment. During advisory, students had an opportunity to complete “If you really knew me…” statements on prepared cards. Those cards were reviewed, and students found them hanging around the school hallways the following day. Our Booster Club parents shared that reading those cards was their favorite piece of Unity Week.

On Tuesday, we focused on Relationships. We had collected “I Wish My Students Knew…” worksheets from staff members the entire month before our Unity Week. We formatted them and added a picture of each adult author and hung these on a wall in a common place for students to enjoy. The most interesting part of this activity was that every adult approached this prompt in a different manner. Some responses were serious, some funny. Some responses were reflective and thoughtful. Our student council members said that reading those staff statements was the best part of the week. We also gave students a chance to write thank-you notes to teachers and staff members.

Culture and Heritage were our focus for Wednesday. When students entered the building that morning, they found flags hanging around the school. My students created a scavenger hunt using those flags, and prizes were candies from different countries. During lunches, we hosted diverse food trucks. To grow this day in the future, we hope to showcase talent and performances focusing on different areas of our world and hope to create a cultural family night to bring our surrounding community into our school.

Thursday’s focus was Antibullying. When students arrived at our school, they found our sidewalks chalked with inspirational messages. During access period, students watched our school’s recreation of Shane Koyczan’s “To This Day” video using our own students and familiar faces.

Fully inspired by Stephen Amundson’s “Four Seasons of ASB” #HugMe lunchtime activity, we decided to recreate this event. During the previous month, we started collecting student stories of being the victim of bullying. Selected willing participants wrote their story on a poster board, followed by the words “HUG ME.” Those kids then stood blindfolded as students and staff read their stories and offered hugs. This was a really empowering activity to witness as student after student offered hugs.

Friday was our Century Pride day, and we spent the day celebrating our Jaguar Spirit. For two months, we collected student stories. Topics included sexual assault, gender identity, addiction, suicide attempts, neglect, and survival. We put these stories into an assembly we named “Voices” to reinforce the profound stories students deal with on a day-to-day basis. The assembly program was peppered with “If you really knew me” quotes, a couple student performances, and ended with an all-school sing-a-long of “This is Me,” a song from “The Greatest Showman.”

All in all, this was a really positive week, and we can’t wait to bring this back again next year (after some tweaking) with new stories.

Julie Kasper is an assistant principal at Century High School (CHS) in Hillsboro, OR. Prior to this year, she was the activities director for 19 years at CHS.