There is a hard truth to be told: before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created. – Parker Palmer
Parker Palmer recognizes that sometimes mud and muck exist in our outdoor spaces and in our lives and histories. During the end of February into the beginning of March, we had the opportunity to look directly at the “plug ugly” of structural inequalities.
Margaret Synan-Russell and the third grade teachers asked two questions:
- What event could we create to elevate the voice of Honorary Chinook Tribal artist Mark Shelton?
- Could we bring in Vanport Mosaic’s six panels that tell the story of Vanport City to enhance the inquiry work of our third grade students?
Through more questioning and collaboration with Mark and Greta Smith, the education coordinator from Vanport Mosaic, OES had an opportunity to look at elements of Oregon and United States’ history that can make some uncomfortable. Though their work is both beautiful and in many ways uplifting, it also surfaced systemic inequalities that contributed to the erasure of a Native tribe and a city. What if we invited others into discomfort with us? What would happen?
Over several days we found out.
Folks from OES and the broader Portland community joined Mark on February 26th as he discussed the Chinook Nation’s ongoing legal battle for recognition. He also showcased his artwork that is anchored in his Native identity, as well as the work he did with OES Lower School students. On February 27th people gathered to hear Dr. James Harrison tell the story of Vanport and view interviews of Vanport survivors guided by Laura Lo Forti. We had the honor of having two survivors join us to share their childhood stories that were punctuated with the memories of “white only” signs in downtown Portland and the mentorship and love of their elementary school teachers. Students, parents, and community members engaged with the Vanport Panels, the interviews and each other to explore and connect to our history.
Simultaneously, students were connecting across grade levels to explore prompts inspired by the Vanport Panel Exhibit during the day. Stephanie Portman, the history department chair, encouraged educators and students to explore the exhibit, prompts and responses as well as participate as interview subjects for the third graders. These collaborations created work that reflects students’ and adults’ understanding of community.
When asked what a community needs to thrive, students responded:
When asked what would make a community vulnerable to erasure, these were the responses:
In looking at the responses, I was struck by the word “trust” as a component for a thriving community and “not trusting each other” for a community vulnerable to erasure. Trust is a fundamental component to our work with students in educational institutions. If students trust educators they are likely to take academic and emotional risks that lead to growth. As one of my mentors once said, “Education is all about relational trust.”
One way our community can build trust is through authentic dialogue-- like those we had with Mark Shelton, Laura Lo Forti, and Dr. Harrison. By sharing their historical knowledge and amplifying the voices of those that are not always heard we as a community get to learn and decide. We get to decide what we as individuals and as a community will do in response to what we have learned.
May the mud and muck of spring offer us opportunities to practice trusting each other, dialoguing, and acting.
Announcement: OES Inclusion Advisory Council
As we seek to deepen the inclusion work of the school, we are looking for people versed in the work of inclusion to commit to a voluntary position on the newly established OES Inclusion Advisory Council. This group will meet four times in 2018-2019. The focus of the council is to:
- Provide feedback and input on community engagement events.
- Review and provide input on drafts of and the final version of the inclusion strategic plan.
- Create a forum to discuss topics of inclusion that relate to the school’s growth as a culturally competent organization.
If you are interested, please complete this application by April 10, 2018. OES employees, parents, and alumni are welcome to apply. Applicants will meet with the Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement, the Associate Head of School, and the parent leader of the Parent Community Link (PCL) during the month of April with final decisions on appointments by May 2018.