POLSTON: How we're creating a safe environment for all

Our community has long valued preparation of our youth to excel in the world beyond Grand Haven. Central to this idea is the ability to understand, accept and collaborate with others that come from different backgrounds.
Jul 12, 2013

An individual’s ability to see issues from multiple perspectives is critical to success in the global economy of the 21st century.

The changing world around us has played out locally as Ottawa County has been one of the five fastest-growing counties in Michigan over the past few years, and racial minorities have grown at the fastest rates.

The recent issues of intolerance in our community have highlighted the need for a community approach to moving forward. In order to best prepare our youth, and to promote a positive social and economic climate, our future must be defined by a culture of acceptance and valuing our diversity as a strength.

Last fall, our community leaders raised the ante in this endeavor by creating a group called the Diversity Initiative of Northwest Ottawa County, involving leaders from every segment of our community. Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Keith Konarska is one of three co-chairs for the initiative, which is an important step to engage our entire community to create the inclusive environment that has room for all.

In addition, the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance has been a willing partner for business and education groups looking to grow their organizations.

I represent the school system, which in turn is a reflection of the entire community. Our school district has had successes with diversity, but we also have areas we can strengthen. Our district’s vision is "success for all students." Critical to our vision is for all students to feel safe and supported from a school culture that provides a caring educational environment.

Regardless of your personal perspective toward diversity, I believe the preceding vision statements are what all would want for their children and community. To support our vision, you will see the following approaches in our schools:

• Staff and student training on diversity
• Collaboration with other entities, including the Diversity Initiative of Northwest Ottawa County, Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance and the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights
• Highlighting multiple perspectives in our existing curriculum
• Employing a districtwide diversity facilitator
• Building and growing celebrations, such as our annual Hispanic Family Night
• Facilitating a districtwide climate and culture committee focusing on diversity and anti-harassment 
• Teaching the value of respect in every school environment, in every school, as a part of each school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) plan 
• Refining the Capturing Kids’ Hearts initiative to further embed it into our school culture 

When considering next steps, I feel it is very important to consider a broad approach. Just as teaching American values and appreciation for the men and women of our armed services cannot be taught solely on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, diversity appreciation cannot be taught exclusively on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and through events such as Hispanic Heritage Month. In each case, these are opportunities that provide focus and depth — but parents, educators and students must see daily interactions, both in and out of the classroom, as the avenue to achieve acceptance.

As Winston Churchill said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” While our community and schools have had difficulties, the challenges have given us the opportunity to grow.

I am optimistic that there are better days ahead. Through a caring educational environment and partnership with our community, we will relentlessly pursue our vision of "success for all."

Kevin Polston is principal of Lakeshore Middle School, and a member of the Grand Haven Area Public Schools Diversity Committee since 2005.

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