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Lakeview to explore diversity

CORTLAND — In a school district where the majority of students look like one another and share similar beliefs, Lakeview Middle School next year will be taking a big step toward exposing students to different cultures and ideas through a whole school read-aloud of “Refugee” by Alan Gratz.

“Living in Trumbull County, going to school in Lakeview, we do not have a whole lot of diversity that students are seeing on a daily basis,” said Ashley Handrych, principal of the district’s middle school. About 95 percent of the students are Caucasian.

In an attempt to broaden student’s horizons, all Lakeview middle schoolers will read “Refugee,” which follows the lives of three refugee children from different locations and different time periods and how their stories weave together.

“It is certainly not any type of a referendum on immigration or political opinions,” Handrych said. “We are there to talk about this story –s and for students to form their own opinions and just keep an open mind to it –s and hear the story of these three very different children and the plight that they faced.”

Handrych said she hopes to have guest readers reading parts of the books on a recording over the summer, so that those recordings can be shown in advisory periods. Every student and staff member will have a copy of the book to follow along — around 550 books total.

Handrych said she is working on securing grants to help buy books, and said she also will be asking for family contributions. Through Scholastic, the paperback books are $5.25 each, plus shipping.

The whole school will be involved in bringing the stories alive for students, including cafeteria workers, who will prepare a German dish to go along with a section of the book set in Germany.

Parents also will help students trace their roots and learn about their origins. Handrych said she plans for students to make flags in art class that will represent their heritage and be displayed around the school.

In addition to exposing the students to a diverse set of cultures and ideas, Handrych said the project also is meant to help students connect with each other through literature and build empathy.

“I think it’s easy for students to use the framework of something that’s common like bullying, but this puts them in a different perspective. A lot of times if we’re talking about a kid getting bullied, it’s because they’re different. Here we’re trying to open up their eyes to those differences.”

Handrych said the idea for the project came from Hudson Middle School, where students read “Refugee” last year. This year, Hudson expanded the project with a new book and increased community involvement. The school is also using various reading levels of one story to involve kindergarten through high school.

Handrych said her intention is to continue to grow the program in years to come. She presented members of the Lakeview Board of Education with copies of “Refugee” at Monday’s meeting.

Board member Donna Zuga said she was glad to see Lakeview Middle School “filling that gap” in diversity. She said her daughters graduated from Lakeview and were surprised to meet different kinds of people and ideas in college at Ohio State University.

“At that time we were assessing what we can do to make Lakeview better. The challenge that they felt their foundation here wasn’t able to provide, was understanding diversity and other cultures,” said Zuga.

“I think this is an excellent thing to be doing,” said board member Don Galbreath.

Handrych said to kick off the entire project, 16 students will be traveling to John Carroll University next month for a diversity conference geared toward middle-schoolers and focused on social justice.

“They get trained that day, and they bring that training back to the building and implement it in student committees and work with other kids on what they learned that day,” Handrych said.

avugrincic@tribtoday.com

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