by Jamie Asaka, director of equity and inclusion/director of student and family support
People come to Lakeside from all around the region – and the world! That makes us strong in so many ways. It also means that sometimes it's hard to get everyone on the same page. But when we can come together, listening to each other and bringing all of our collective knowledge to engage with an issue, we can see powerful change.
Here's an example. In the last couple of years, our community has come together to build a common understanding and approach to mental health and suicide prevention. When the student and family support team started this work in 2015, we knew there needed to be a strong educational component, partly because different cultures have varying approaches to talking about mental health and seeking help. Working with Forefront Suicide Prevention at the University of Washington, and in partnership with Lakeside's PGA, the school created a layered process that starts with educating faculty and staff, students, and parents and guardians – about language, data, support, and actions to take. We talked, practiced, and transformed how our community was approaching the issue of mental health and suicide.
As a community, we have said that mental health is important, that everyone is touched by it, and that everyone needs to learn about it. As a result, we've seen an uptick in readiness and care, and students proactively reaching out to adults who are prepared to respond.
This is great. And we need to do more. We have not done this same kind of multidimensional, all-hands-on-deck approach to learning about race, sexual orientation, gender, and other aspects of students' identities. These topics come up in some classes at Lakeside – but not in every class. They form the basis for many meaningful conversations between some adults on campus and some students – but not everyone. And in many homes, they create opportunities for talking about family values and personal identity – but as often as I hear about deep and affirming conversations I also hear about awkward silences and missed opportunities.
I'm excited how our initiative Our Work Together: Inclusion, Multiculturalism, Respect is going to provide a structure for us to come together, listen and learn, and establish some basic understandings about different identities and cultures. That work has started and will be ongoing. We need to be super intentional in teaching each other about what we expect and how we co-exist in this community.
There are actions that you – as a parent and guardian – can take now. Your conversations with your student at home are a crucial part of their learning and development. As my colleague Felicia Wilks remarked recently, your student can learn from you at home, or they can learn from the internet. Here are three things that you can do now.
- Create space in your daily or weekly family schedule to have conversations about tough topics. Gun control and the recent student walkouts. Sexual orientation. Race. Religion. Teenagers are in the midst of developing their identity – and their identity is changing all the time! How does your student see themselves? How do they think others see them? Who do they want to be? Figuring out who they are is a teenager's biggest job. Create space to talk with your student about what they are thinking and what they believe. And provide space for their answer – whatever it is – to be okay. After 17 years working with families and in schools, I believe that all parents and guardians want their kids to be safe, healthy, and happy. Create time and space to listen, because you don't know what you don't know. And you'll never learn if you don't listen.
- Help your student gain practice thinking about other perspectives. Listen to what they think and ask, how might this be different if you were ________. How might your experience be different if you lived in ________. How would this change if our family was ________. What would it be like to walk in someone else's shoes? Members of a dominant group in society may not have many opportunities to think about how others experience something. When you have truly thought about and explored an issue from multiple perspectives, your understanding is much more meaningful. You can stand up for what you believe with courage and conviction.
- Solicit support from other people – including your partners here at school: the teachers and staff! It's important for students to have a range of adults to whom they can reach out to – people they (and you!) trust to be in conversation with your student about who they are and who they want to be. This is especially important if your child's identity differs from your own in some way. I like to think about it as a web of support – a student's family, advisor, teachers, support team, coaches, and others – all there for a young person. And there for you! There will always be books and articles telling you how to approach something, but it's even more powerful to invite others to be part of your student's journey.
Let's keep the conversation going. The partnership between the school and parents and guardians strengthens the web of support for our students. Talking with and listening to parents and guardians has been a big part of my learning experience here. If you are interested in talking in person, please reach out to me or another member of the diversity, equity, and inclusion team (Stephanie Wright, Nancy Canino, Merissa Reed, Debbie Bensadon, or Zinda Foster). Or contact your student's advisor or a member of the student support team. A great way to connect with other parents and guardians is at the PGA T.J. Vassar diversity and community committee meeting on Monday, April 2 (find details on the calendar).
Thanks for reading, everyone!
Jamie Asaka is director of equity and inclusion/director of student and family support. You can reach her at email@example.com or 206-440-2901.