A Muslim saying states that “a lot of different flowers make a bouquet.” As RSU5 continues to create its new strategic plan, one focus is to ensure that all learners’ unique needs are met. In reaching this goal, it is critical for the district to model, support, and promote diversity. When we embrace and include all students, the resulting impact is a beautiful bouquet that enriches all of our students’ lives.

Our inclusive classrooms throughout RSU 5 celebrate diversity in every way, whether through race, socioeconomic status, backgrounds, ability, gender, or ideological perspectives. Students learn a lot more in schools today than just the three “Rs” of education: reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also learn how to relate with people from various racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and intellectual backgrounds. The more diverse environments we create, the more prepared our students are to live in their world.

Promoting diversity is an area where public schools shine as we welcome all children who walk through our doors, regardless of their needs or backgrounds. Public schools recognize how much we have to learn from one another. As the workplace of tomorrow is growing ever more diverse, inclusive classrooms that teach compassion, empathy, and mutual respect will instill the skills needed to prepare our students for success.

If our district truly wants to nurture a sense of community, and is sincere in its mission to prepare students for adulthood in a diverse world, we cannot separate some students from their peers merely because they present differently. The more we sort, whether by ability or other traits, the more we deprive one another of a full and authentic experience.

In RSU 5, many examples exist of how we embrace a diverse school culture.

Our youngest learners at Morse Street School participated last week in the Great Kindness Challenge. The “Mix-It Up Lunch” encourages students to eat lunch with someone different than they normally do. Guidance classes teach empathy through role-playing, by having students “put themselves in someone else’s shoes.”

At Mast Landing School, the Civil Rights Team works on projects that engage the school community in thinking and talking about issues related to diversity, whether it be about race and skin color, national origin and ancestry, religion, disabilities, gender, or sexual orientation. The goal is to make all students feel safe, welcome, and respected for who they are. In all of our schools, students are recognized and celebrated at assemblies for showing acts of empathy or kindness towards one another.

At Freeport High School, the Reducing Sexism and Violence Program addresses gender issues. Students participate in a training on how to become active bystanders, learning how to handle difficult conversations that occur in the locker room, in the lunch room, or at social events towards targeted individuals. The trained students present to various groups to raise awareness and acceptance.

Last week at a Unified Basketball game, where students with disabilities play alongside their peers who are non-disabled, a parent commented that going to the game is the best educational event he attends all year. The value of how we can learn from one another is so apparent as the fans cheer for the students as they support one another on the court.

Not everyone agrees with how far inclusion should be fostered within our schools. But what we know for sure is, building more diverse cultures is worth the effort because diversity strengthens us, makes us better, and fortifies us for our ever-changing world.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected].