Mutual Respect: No reports of post-election tension in Mt. Angel Schools

November 2016 Posted in Community, School

By Steve Ritchie

Post-election tension and conflicts have crept into schools in many places around the country, but school administrators and students in the Mount Angel School District say there have been no school-related issues to Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s election victory Nov. 8. Students in Mount Angel’s three public schools are more than 50 percent Latino. Some children and families could be in jeopardy, if Trump follows through on his campaign promises to deport undocumented immigrants. Middle school principal Jennifer McCallum believes some of her students are concerned about the future.

“I think it’s definitely there,” McCallum said. “I’ve had one kid so far who has expressed concern to me about it, and that says to me that if one kid has talked to me I know other kids and families are, too. They have all these pressures on them, and they’re scared and worried. And how do they come to school and learn when they’re dealing with that?”

McCallum said her staff displays their support for their students.

“We tell them we’re going to be here every day for you, and you are going to be here and we’re going to teach you. Just that consistency of ‘we’re here.’ Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but we have to try to alleviate some of their fears. It’s not going to happen right now,” McCallum said.

Kennedy High School Principal Sean Aker said neither the high school nor the middle school have witnessed any hate speech or behavior that could be interpreted as threatening or bullying during or after the election campaign.

“Since I have been here there have not been any incidents between (ethnic) groups,” Aker said, noting the high school is 53 percent Latino and 46 percent Anglo. He believes the climate at Kennedy promotes acceptance and mutual respect.

“I haven’t seen any problems. I’ve never been in a classroom here where students were arguing. It is always a cohesive learning environment. I will say that I think our staff has done a really good job – whether it’s this issue or another one – of making sure they reiterate the character of our school which is very positive, inclusive and accepting. Our substitute teachers consistently tell us ‘Your kids are great’ and there are no behavior issues.”

Aker’s assessment is backed by students who were interviewed for this story. While the election was discussed both in class and among friends, none of them said they had experienced or witnessed anything inappropriate.

“We’re not immune to conflict,”  Katie Voss, principal at St. Mary’s School said. “Teachers, students and families in our district have a diverse range of perspectives and come from a variety of backgrounds.  We try to be proactive about celebrating the positive character traits or virtues our students bring to the St. Mary’s community.”

Voss said staff, community members and students model and promote inclusive behavior that indicates “we are stronger because we are diverse.” Superintendent Troy Stoops said the Mount Angel schools have been fortunate to date with no evidence of anxiety or public concerns following the election. He said the small district embraces its diversity and incorporates “Virtues” into its daily lessons, activities and actions.

“We have similar challenges as many other districts, but we are unique in the manner in which we promote community service, getting students involved and using Virtues as a tool to build positive character with our students,” Stoops said.  The Virtues First program was developed by former Kennedy High Football Coach Randy Traeger.

“We have great staff, great students and a supportive community. A great combination to help deal with challenging times like our recent election.”
McCallum believes diversity in Mount Angel schools is a positive thing and helps the students relate better to those of different backgrounds.

“We have to be aware and respectful of (our students) and embrace everybody’s differences and diversity,” McCallum said. “It’s phenomenal. I want to have a diverse population here and have people feel safe talking about and talking to each other being kind and respectful. We have to be able to talk to each other, and express our differences in a way that is respectful and appropriate.”

McCallum said social media can pose challenges for young people, especially in middle and high school. But she says it also provides an opportunity for teaching tolerance and respect.

“We tell the kids, ‘You have to be aware that words have power, and here we want you to use it for good and be kind to each other.’ Middle school is hard because they don’t always have the impulse control. Sometimes they will say things, and then it’s like ‘oh what did I say, I didn’t mean it.’ We need to teach them that everyone is different and has different opinions and that’s okay. But we need to be kind about it and respectful and not be hurtful,” McCallum said.

“We are so lucky to have a community here that can do that. We have great kids and great parents and they are so supportive,” McCallum said. “They’re kids and kids are going to say things, but I think it’s the action and the follow-up, and how to use it as a teaching moment and help them learn from it.”

Kevin Ortega splits his time between St. Mary’s Elementary and Mount Angel Middle schools.

“I am glad to report the poor behavior related to the election has not been brought to my attention,” Ortega said. “I helped one student deal with some stress the morning after the election and am aware of a teacher who did the same for another student, but neither of these incidents were provoked by other students. For the most part, the day after the election was like most every other day.”

“It takes empathy and restraint to know how to disagree without escalating or provoking unnecessarily,” Ortega said. “

I believe that Mount Angel parents and teachers also deserve credit for helping us maintain a positive climate. Kids certainly watch adults and take their cues from us.” 

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