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Better Together Day will include 38 workshops taught by students, teachers and community members

PMG PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Some members of the LOJ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee that organized Better Together Day. From left: Lindsay Kopacek, principal Kevin Mills, Amy Espinosa and Aletia Cochran.Teachers and staff at Lake Oswego Junior High have spent the last school year working together to make the school a more inclusive and equitable community. Their efforts have culminated in their first annual Better Together Day Friday, May 24.

The day will feature students, parents and community members sharing their experiences and leading 60-minute sessions on topics including culture, arts, social issues and advocacy.

"This day is where students and community members teach and learn from each other to make LOJ a more inclusive and culturally responsive community," said principal Kevin Mills.

On Better Together Day, students will sign up for one lesson for each regular class period. "While typical content will not be covered this day, students will still be experiencing learning growth in evaluating, analyzing, critical thinking and collaboration," Mills said.

Students and parents were responsible for coming up with their own topics, and were paired with teachers to help them design their lessons to best reach their audience. The teachers will also be present during the sessions to support the presenter, and the lessons will align with the "culturally responsive focus we have been implementing at LOJ," according to Mills.

The driving force behind Better Together Day is the school's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, made up of LOJ teachers and staff.

"About three months ago the DEI committee decided that we wanted to do something actionable," said eighth grade language arts and social studies teacher Aletia Cochran. "We have been having a lot of very valid discussions and putting in the work that we had to do first. We're ready to capitalize on our work, and put our thoughts into action."

Cochran said culture, arts, social issues and advocacy were chosen as the central themes of the day because they were areas where the DEI committee saw the greatest need for further understanding.

Students will be able to self-select which workshops they want to attend. "We wanted to give students a choice so that each student gets the most out of the day," said Amy Espinosa, LOJ's Response to Intervention coordinator.

While some students will spend the day learning, others will spend the day teaching. There will be ten staff presenters from elementary, middle and high school levels, six community member presenters, and at least 28 students from all levels, including elementary and high schoolers.

Mills, who used to be the principal of West Linn High School, had experience organizing their Unity Day, which served as a partial inspiration for Better Together Day — both events allow students to propose topics for workshops in which they will teach other students.

"It's a bit different here because we're working with middle school students, so we tailored the concept of Unity Day to what is going to work best for our school and community," Mills said.

Eighth grade science teacher Lindsay Kopacek has been a big part of organizing Better Together Day. When they first rolled out the idea, Kopacek and other teachers held a student meeting to gauge interest. "The room was full," she said. "They are all so excited about presenting for their peers. As they've been matched with teachers and worked on developing their presentations, the conversations have been just incredible. When you empower students it's amazing what they can do."

Mills concurred. "By supporting students and parents to conceptualize, plan and deliver a lesson, teachers are empowering our young people to be leaders in their learning communities," he said.

Kopacek said she hopes that Better Together Day will help combat intolerance and promote understanding. "We've been talking a lot about microagressions. We wanted to flip that on its head and make this a day full of 'micro affirmations' for every person," she said. "We want all students of all abilities to have a strong voice."

"Every one of us has something important to say," added Cochran.

Better Together Day will be held at Lake Oswego Junior High May 24. Look out for coverage in the May 30 issue of the Review.

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