TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– During his first public comments addressing the aftermath of racist incidents at West Vigo High School in late 2022, Vigo County Schools interim superintendent Tom Balitewicz said the school would implement diversity training for all staff and students.
The training for staff officially began last week, and on Monday, the two administrators tasked with leading those presentations discussed some of the content, and what their goals are.
Chief diversity and inclusion officer for VCSC Matthew McClendon and Project AWARE coordinator Dr. Megan Kirk are leading hour-long presentations with staff at every school in the corporation. The presentation is split into two parts– the first 30 minutes led by McClendon and focusing diversity and inclusion, and the second half, focused on bullying with Kirk.
McClendon said he works to broadly define terms like prejudice, racism and white supremacy.
“I think a lot of times, terms get thrown out and there’s not a lot of research behind them on what it means, and what it could come to,” he said. “The situation we are in in society right now, it’s going to take a lot of conversations and tough conversations.”
McClendon said he believes the training can allow for those conversations to take place– something he thinks will be instrumental in increasing understanding around the community.
“I think at the crux of it all, is how do you have that tough conversation with a person when you think you lack knowledge or something,” he said. “How do you ask that question? How do you give someone grace when they ask a question you think they should know?”
Kirk said the next part of the presentation focuses on three things– defining bullying, accountability and restorative practices.
“I don’t want them to see this as one more thing, one more initiative we are trying to push out, but for them to realize they are already building connections with students, and to understand the importance of those connections with students and the relationships they are building,” she said.
She said it also focuses on the resources students have to report bullying, including the “StopIt” app and an anonymous bullying reporting form. This Friday, all teachers will again go over these resources with students.
“I think they have been effective in us just having the awareness of what students are experiencing,” she said. “We get reports every day on both of those apps. I think it’s effective and right now is a great time for us to just remind our students of these resources.”
The training is starting with staff across the corporation’s high school and middle schools, before finishing with elementary staff. McClendon said the target date to finish staff training is May 2nd– but they may look at other trainings or initiatives down the line.
“After that, we can talk about workshops, additional trainings or even series as well, even throughout the summer and next school year,” he said.
Both said they are working on adopting a training for students as well– but those details are being worked out. McClendon said he would like to do it in a classroom setting, which will take more time. The training will also differ for students of different ages. They hope to start this training before the end of the school year, but it could begin next fall.
McClendon also discussed a “diversity task force” that has been created in response to these incidents. It will include members from outside VCSC. McClendon said it will be vital in helping shape future projects and initiatives.
“Of course, I have my own input, but that’s why we have a task force, I want to hear from them,” he said. “I’m not from here. I work for the Vigo County School Corporation, so getting viewpoints from other people, diversity, different views outside the school corporation, I think will be really helpful.”