A few weeks ago I had breakfast with my friend Rick Kellner. Rick is a Worthington parent and a great supporter of education in our community. He’s also the senior rabbi and spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Worthington. I always enjoy talking with Rick and learning from his perspective.
As the holidays were approaching when we met, Rick shared a book with me titled “The Only One Club.” The story in this book is about a young Jewish girl who realizes she is the only student in her classroom who celebrates Hanukkah. At first this young lady is saddened by the realization that she is different from others and so she forms her own club: the only one club. Over time she realizes that everyone in her class is the only one at something. She has a friend who is a different color and another friend with red hair. You can see where this is going.
I really enjoyed the moral of this story because it’s critical this time of year and throughout the entire year. Over the holiday season we all celebrate differently. We have students who may not celebrate at all, or who, while they would like to celebrate, they can’t afford to, and certainly many cannot afford to, to the level of some of their classmates.
In Worthington Schools today we serve students who were born in 65 different countries. You read that correctly, 65 different countries! Each family comes to Worthington with their own unique traditions, understandings and customs. With the political rhetoric in the United States today it is becoming more and more difficult to be different. At the same time in Worthington Schools our students blend together and truly become a melting pot. We want each of our students to be in their own one and only club and be free to be themselves in a safe environment where they’re supported and nurtured.
For all of us the challenge is to step back and recognize how others may feel when we implement the things that excite us about the holidays. How can we better explain our customs and why those customs are important to us to those who have different customs? How can we make certain that all students are included and can enjoy the season?
The diversity of our school district is one of our great strengths. We have students from all walks of life and from across the globe. Sometimes that diversity is uncomfortable. We may think differently about an issue and we may express ourselves in unique ways. As a community of learners this provides us with yet another opportunity to learn from one another and without question these experiences will help our students as they leave us eventually and go off to compete in the global workforce.
For now, we want our students to know it’s OK to be who you are and we want our staff and parent base to work hard at being sensitive to the beliefs and customs of all our students. We’re all in our own Only One club.
- Trent Bowers, Superintendent