Saturday, June 19, 2021

Students seek more lessons on diversity

by Daniel McKay
Whitefish Pilot | July 7, 2020 1:09 PM

A trio of Whitefish High School students are voicing their desire for more diversity studies in their school.

Harriett Grantz, Emma Trieweiler and Niko Hunter recently addressed the Whitefish School Board speaking up on how to boost the integration of diversity studies within the district’s curriculum.

“The three of us have been very active in trying to make change in our community in light of recent events, and we think some of our ideas can be very beneficial to the school district,” Grantz said. “We have a lot of support from other students on this topic.”

Ryder Delaloye, Curriculum Director for the district, said he’s twice met with the students to hear their requests.

He said from those talks, the district is moving to create an advisory committee, made up of representatives from students, teachers and administrators to further examine the issue.

The students spoke up following protests in downtown Whitefish where demonstrators showed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hunter said he and other students have always had a positive experience with Whitefish Schools, but recent events have made them want more from their education.

“Based on the current events that have been happening, we’ve noticed a lot of people that have had gaps on their education of Black history and the history of systemic racism,” he said. “While we know in junior and senior year we get more in depth into those topics, a lot of students already have their views pretty heavily rooted at this point, and because those seeds weren’t planted when they were younger, they’re not quite as open to conversation.”

Hunter added that a great starting point is mandating Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. Day topics in the curriculum.

Trieweiler said she and her peers discovered the Montana Human Race Equity Project, which offers workshops on teaching about Black history and other topics in a way that can help teachers feel more comfortable.

“I know there’s been some instances where I’ve been in classes and it’s been kind of uncomfortable for everyone involved because the teacher isn’t sure how to teach it and they want to make sure to respect me and also make sure they’re teaching the right thing to all of the students,” Trieweiler said.

Delaloye said the advisory committee is expected to form in August and look at ways to implement changes to the district’s social studies curriculum.

“This is a very significant issue. It has far reaching implications, and is very expansive in its scope,” Delaloye said. “Committee processes allow for a diversity of perspective to inform a process, so you have voice and agency from individuals with different background. It also allows for transparency, it’s not decisions made behind closed doors, it’s an operative, iterative process.”

The timing works out as well, he said, as the district was already set to review its social studies curriculum during the upcoming school year.

Delaloye said he’s encouraged by the students and how they’ve spoken up on their needs within the classroom, and the committee will look to make those needs the top priority.

“The goal of this process is to really resolve and address the student-driven need, which is their wanting to have more knowledge and information about these critical topics, and also to have the tools and resources to navigate them,” he said. “I’m grateful for this opportunity. It’s rare, maybe it shouldn’t be, for students to take this much initiative on their own. I’m very touched by it, and I am sincere in my resolve to support that. This is the work of schools. This is the achievement of our mission statement when we talk about the formation of citizens.”