By Caitlyn Freeman
Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) hosted a second ‘community conversation’ on Tuesday, May 21st at Central Middle School, located in Edgewater. During the event, led by school system officials, members and leaders of the community partook in activities and conversations meant to, according to the press release, “to explore how communities are interconnected.”
As Dr. George Arlotto, Superintendent of AACPS explained in his opening remarks, Tuesday’s event marked the second ‘community conversation’ held by the school system, with the first one being held on January 30th at Chesapeake Bay Middle School.
“This is about your community,” Arlotto said to attendees. He went on to say that the “safety” and “security” of AACPS staff and students play a significant role in the learning environment.
“Students are going to be more successful when they’re more comfortable. When they know their environment like their home environment, where they’re loved and cared for; that’s important to us,” Arlotto said. He went on to explain that the school system is aware that if there is “bigotry” and “hate” within a school, the desired school environment is not likely to be achieved. He called the conversation a “catalyst for change” that, he believes, will allow attendees to “know and understand each other.”
After Arlotto’s remarks, Christopher Truffer, Regional Superintendent for the Arundel and South River cluster, explained the purpose of the event; echoing Arlotto’s emphasis on connections.
“When our students feel emotionally safe and secure and valued, and they feel that they belong, we are to make connections with them,” Truffer said. He went on to explain that he believes the schools within the South River cluster do a “very good job” at implementing things to analyze the well-being of teachers, staff, students, and their families.
Dr. Maisha Gillins, event organizer and Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Accelerated Student Achievement for AACPS, followed Truffer’s remarks by explaining the evening’s main activity. The participants were directed to head towards a classroom, which was determined by the color card they were to receive as they were leaving the central area.
Once in their designated rooms, participants were instructed to stand in a circle. The activity included the participants tossing a ball of yarn around as they found connections with each other. In the session led by Ms. Sinnot and Ms. Colbert, the initial question posed by Sinnot asked was, “what is your favorite type of pizza?” As the attendees found answered the questions or talked about themselves, they found ‘connections’ with one another. Once a ‘connection’ was determined, the person holding the yarn ball would pass the ball around to the person who shared their ‘connection,’ while still holding one part of it. The yarn was passed around until there was none left, creating an interconnected, web-like shape.
“It was a yarn activity where we were trying to show the different, maybe […] under the surface connections that people throughout the community have,” Hawk said about the activity. As he explained, the Global Community Citizenship (GCC) teachers from Arundel were chosen to facilitate Tuesday’s event due to their experience with discussions on community and partaking in similar activities like those done on Tuesday. Hawk added that he believes the yarn activity helps to reveal the “hidden connections” within a community.
After participating in the activity, which was lead by GCC teachers Sinnott, Ms. Ricker, Hawk, and Colbert from Arundel High School, the participants were directed to silently write their answer to the question “What did the activity you just participated in teach you about connecting with others?” on one of the various pieces of paper hanging around the room. Gillins emphasized to the group that they must be silent during the answer portion, which she revealed later in the evening was to prevent one’s answer being altered due to spoke input by others. After they wrote their responses, they were instructed to read the responses of others.
After the completion of the second task, the members of the community were then prompted to return to their initial seats and fill out a contact card so that Gillins could reach out to them after the event. During this time, attendees voiced their concerns to the AACPS leadership. One person said there was a lack of community within AACPS, another said that the publication of incidents is necessary for growth and change to occur. Another comment that was made was that in order for the community to over come occurrences of racism and bigotry, “tough” conversations need to be had. Those who wanted to become more hand on were directed to draw a star on their contact slip.
Amy Hood, a parent of two children in the school system and resides in Annapolis, says she was “really glad” to see the school system addressing the issues within the school system that have been prevalent.
“Well, this is a start; recognizing [issues] and trying to get more education out there, like they’re doing right now is defiantly just the start,” Hood said about the school systems actions toward the issues discussed.
According to Gillins, the school system plans to host a “community conversation” in every cluster in the 2019-2020 school year.