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September 23 will be spent celebrating and reflecting on the diverse voices at the school

Students at Lake Oswego High School will experience a different type of school day Sept.23, as the school celebrates the first annual This Is Us Day. The day is designed to embrace the school's diversity through listening, celebrating and reflecting on all of the voices that are part of the LOHS community.

This Is Us Day was organized by four LOHS teachers: Julie Davis, Lisa Mitchell, Kelly Nalty and Teresa Sanchez, who say the purpose of this day is to take another step in creating a more inclusive culture and a sense of belonging for all students.

"We think that our student body is diverse," said Sanchez. "What we wanted to create was a sense of belonging, making sure that they all feel accepted."

The day will feature dozens of presentations from students, teachers and experts in fields relating to diversity and equity. The presentations are broken up into three areas: those that affirm identities, those that build community, and those that cultivate leadership and activism.

Selena Zhiang, a Lakeridge student who sits on the school's diversity council, will be leading two sessions, one about curriculum through an equity lens, and one about algorithmic bias in artificial intelligence. The first session is inspired by Zhiang's experience discovering bias in the classroom. "Last year I took AP US History, and I was really shocked, because our primary source of information — our textbook — had a lot of blatantly bigoted or inaccurate passages," she said. "I was really annoyed, so throughout the year I started tracking quotes, and at the end of the year I wrote up a letter to Ms. Davis and the school district's DEI Committee."

As a result, Zhiang was able to sit in on a textbook adoption meeting, and after talking with various district and school officials, a new textbook was selected for the class, which is now in use.

"I really care about the way we teach history, because it really shapes the way that we view the world today," Zhiang said. "It was really awesome to see how many people in our district are willing to listen, and there are avenues to put forward suggestions or protests when students see these kinds of things."

Her other presentation is inspired by another interest: coding. "History teaches me to identify a lot of the problems I want to solve, and coding is a way I can tangibly solve them," Zhiang said. However, coding is not without its flaws. "As we're moving into an age defined by things like artificial intelligence and machine-learning, we're training computers to be smarter than us," she said. "But we're training them on data that encodes our own prejudices and biases, so they're often emulating those same prejudices. Computers are such a powerful tool, but we always have to be careful of how we use that tool."

Other presenters at This Is Us Day include Superintendent Lora de la Cruz, state Rep.Andrea Salinas, LOSD's Director of Equity David Salerno Owens, Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education Manager Amanda Solomon, author and Portland State University professor Randy Blazak, and many more.

"We wanted to appeal to students' interests, so they wouldn't feel like they were being asked to learn about something they weren't interested in," Nalty said. "We tried to spread the net wide."

Nalty said she hopes this is an event that students will look back on down the line. "We're trying to make this event be something that is memorable in all of the students' futures, wherever they might end up. No matter what state, what college or what job they end up in, they're going to see a really different world in the future," she said. "We felt that because of the homogenous makeup of Lake Oswego, students don't necessarily get to experience the diversity we have on a national level. We wanted to bring that to the students."

The four teachers have been planning this event for about a year, and are hopeful that their hard work will pay off. "We tried to bring students on board so they were excited about it and there was more buy-in," Sanchez said. "We hope this is just the beginning of the conversation, and that we can keep the momentum going."

LOHS Principal Rollin Dickinson said he is looking forward to seeing how students respond to the unique school day. "Sometimes to really see results it takes recreating what a school day looks like. That's what we've done, so it will be really fun to see how that looks in action," he said. "The more that we connect to people's experiences and their curiosity about themselves, their classmates and broader world, the more we're able to create connections between people."

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