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‘Unapologetically us’: students, teachers talk through ethnicity, race issues in inclusion effort

Student experiences spur dialogue about ways to change behavior

Kelloggsville — Beautiful.

Tenth-grader Mirka Sanchez used that word to describe her experience growing up while attending Kelloggsville Public Schools and discovering her personal and sexual identity.

“I’d say it’s a beautiful experience because people around you are going to accept you for who you are,” Mirka said. 

Mirka was one of five students on a recent panel answering questions for high school faculty and staff about LGBTQ issues, and how teachers can address them to make their students feel welcome. 

“All the students here are the same,” Mirka said during her panel’s discussion. “We’re not different from anybody else. We’re just us, unapologetically us.” 

Other panels highlighted Hispanic, Asian American and Black students’ experiences. The panels featuring the high school students also discussed these issues with elementary school faculty and staff. 

‘It’s part of student success — socially, emotionally, and academic success. Students have to feel welcome in their schools.’

— Jeff Owen, district director of instruction

Tenth-grader Andrea Ronzon Contreras spoke with other Hispanic students about their experiences, including hurtful insults and stereotypes, and how to deal with them. She said she has experienced harmful comments about her manner of dress and the languages she speaks other than English.

However, like Mirka, she has found her peers and teachers accept her for who she is. 

“It’s very welcoming,” Andrea said of the high school culture. “I was always accepted when I came in.” 

From left, sophomores Mirka Sanchez and Christian Carrillo, and juniors Ash Dunbar and Angel Nix speak about LGBTQ issues students face during a diversity, equity and inclusion professional development day

Panels Focus on Microaggressions

Another panel featuring an Asian American cultural perspective focused on microaggressions, or actions such as subtle comments which can be unknowingly harmful to another person from a marginalized group of people.

Aline Le, a math and science teacher at the high school, hosted the panel with 11th-grader Mu Pay.

A question such as “where are you from?” can be harmful and shouldn’t be asked, Le said. However, if ethnicity comes up in conversation naturally, it can be discussed, the teacher added. 

“We’re not different from anybody else. We’re just us, unapologetically us.”

— Mirka Sanchez, Kelloggsville High School 10th- grader 

Teachers can be advocates for students and others to learn a more appropriate way to interact with others, Le said. 

For the past 17 years, Susan Faulk has mainly taught English-learner classes at the high school. She said of the panel discussions, “I think it helps me know how to have conversations with students.” 

For instance, she learned it’s better to lead a conversation with a question instead of an assumption, she said.  

The number of English learners in the district has increased greatly, Faulk said, adding, “The school, in 17 years, has become more and more diverse.” 

Diversity Progress Being Made

Demographics of Kelloggsville students have changed in the last decade, said Jeff Owen, the district’s director of instruction. For example, the Black student portion of total enrollment increased from nearly 5 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 26 percent in 2021-22, according to Owen. 

Lindley Arnold, student service coordinator at 54th Street Academy, works with students on attendance and behavior issues at the school, including microaggressions. 

“I do see (the panels) working,” Arnold said. “We’re making some headway but we have a long way to go.” 

A diversity, equity and inclusion committee was formed by the district in fall 2020, said Assistant Superintendent Eric Alcorn. 

“We felt we needed to start looking at some of those issues locally,” Alcorn said about the district’s discussion of diversity and racial issues. “I think the biggest thing you see now is the awareness.” 

That awareness of other people and cultures has made the district a better place, Owen said. 

“Based on feedback from those panels, we’re seeing progress,” he said. “It’s part of student success — socially, emotionally, and academic success. Students have to feel welcome in their schools.”

Kelloggsville High School teacher Aline Le, left, and 11th-grader Mu Pay discuss the microaggressions Asian people face and ways to talk with others about them
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Sean Bradley
Sean Bradley
Sean Bradley is a DeWitt native who has worked as a news reporter in several cities in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. He moved to Grand Rapids in March 2022 to be closer to the entertainment scene including live music and comedy. After graduating in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Central Michigan University, he started his writing career at the Manistee News Advocate, covering city government and law enforcement. He later moved onto The Morning Sun in Alma, and in 2018, went to the Livingston Daily Press and Argus. At these newspapers, he covered school boards and got to know superintendents and staff, learning the ins and outs of education reporting. He is excited to be reporting on Kelloggsville Public Schools for School News Network.


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