by Kate Snyder
As the One Sylvania: Rally for Refugees kicked off at Sylvania Southview High School on February 1, 300 Northwest Ohioans came together to listen, learn and show their support for members of the community. Students, educators and community members stood united to hear stories from refugees and community leaders, and learn ways to make a difference and promote tolerance and unity.
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“In the last decade Sylvania, OH has seen some changes. This community has become a home to immigrants and refugees and the makeup of our district has changed economically and culturally. Rather than plant our heads in the sand and ignore the needs of our changing community, we planted the seeds for tolerance in our schools and our homes,” said Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association President and high school English teacher.
The Rally for Refugees was planned in three-days by a group of educators who were responding to the needs of students in the school community and it was not the first time members of the community united in support of their neighbors. An incident of vandalism targeting Arab neighbors in the Sylvania community, brought 100 community members to their home to help repair the damage. What could have been a hurtful and isolating incident for a family became a rallying point to bring the community together. The spray painted slur was quickly painted over by dozens of volunteers to say, “Toledo [hearts] Arabs.”
The foundation for these responses was laid by Greenberg and his colleagues who understood to successfully create a unified community you must build and implement an inclusive plan to meet the changing needs of Sylvania. It was critical to bring all of the stakeholders—educators, school board members, community leaders and parents – to the table. Over the course of the year, Greenberg used the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as an impetus to reach out and include the community in crafting an inclusive curriculum for Sylvania schools.
In December, the district hosted a three-day cultural competency training which included 80 representatives from Sylvania Schools, teachers, administrators and support staff. Participants listened to the stories of Arab students struggling to learn English, families trying to adapt to a new environment and students of lower socio-economic status who do not have access outside of school to computers or the Internet to complete assignments. Following the training, each of the schools are working to develop a plan to better meet the diverse needs of students.
“This training made me think about the things that really matter, not test scores or evaluations, but what students need and how as educators we play a critical role in creating those experiences,” said Greenberg. “Being a part of a school community that values learning and prioritizes meeting the needs of all students is really amazing.”
A grant from the National Education Association (NEA) made the training possible, and instructors from NEA and the Ohio Education Association facilitated the training.
“This is not a one and done. I don’t look at this as single training or a one-off rally, but as a beginning point for continuous community engagement that will transform the lives of our students, communities and the world,” said Greenberg.