OPINION: Safe & Included

by Brian Ricca

During this past month, we welcomed back to Montpelier Public Schools all our students, pre-kindergarten through twelfth graders.  I spent a substantial amount of time in our classrooms, visiting with students and teachers as they returned to learn some new routines, meet classmates for the first time, reconnect with classmates they already know, and begin setting the foundation for growth and progress this year.

When I welcomed our faculty and staff back to school in August, I urged them to ensure that every single student in Montpelier Public Schools felt safe and included.  Not in a token way — but instead in a foundational way that encouraged all students to be exactly who they are, regardless of skin color, whom they love, or what gender they identify as.  If we are to expect our students to learn and grow, they must feel safe and included when they come to school.

Equity is one of our primary focuses this year in Montpelier Public Schools.  In our Action Plan, our first goal is to “provide equitable learning opportunities for students in safe and inclusive learning environments.”  We should not expect anything less for someone else’s children, as we would not expect anything less for our own.  This means meeting children where they are, ensuring tremendous first instruction for all students, then finding ways to intervene thoughtfully that ensure growth and progress appropriate for all our learners.

Given the reality of life 2017, this goal is critical.  While hearing the words safe and included may cause some to think we are shielding our students too much from the world around them, for me it’s preparing them to be exactly who they are as they prepare to enter that world.  In Vermont, children are compelled to attend school from six through the age of sixteen.  If they are legally bound to attend our schools, the very least we can do is embrace who they are — and ensure that their classmates will do the same.

This commitment to a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students is one that will take a consistent effort from everyone.  At times, we may stumble along the way.  But since no one rises to low expectations, we will remain steadfast in this commitment.  Our own children would not expect anything less, and neither will someone else’s children.

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