Diversity Week being reconceptualized to better align with D128’s mission

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Diversity Week at LHS is being reimagined to better align with D128’s DARING mission to be more authentic and genuine throughout the year, rather than one concentrated week of celebration, according to school officials.

Since the 2016-17 school year, three separate weeks have been set aside and designated to Diversity, Red Ribbon (drug and alcohol abuse awareness) and Yellow Ribbon (mental health awareness) Weeks. Dr. Brenda Nelson, the prevention and wellness coordinator at LHS, has been in charge of running these events.

However, Diversity Week did not gain the same presence of students and energy surrounding the week compared to the other weeks last year, according to principal Dr. Tom Koulentes, which prompted the change.

“It didn’t feel right to me as a principal and it didn’t feel right to a lot of students and staff to only say for one week a year we celebrate diversity. With our new DARING mission that came out last year, diversity and the celebration and recognition of the value of diversity is part of our core mission as a school,” said Dr. Koulentes. “We’ve kind of taken this year to start thinking about what does it look like at Libertyville High School for us to celebrate, recognize, honor and include in a very authentic and genuine way all the diverse perspectives and backgrounds that students and staff bring?”

Dr. Koulentes said he and others have been working on ways to recognize and include every person in the building. As principal, Dr. Koulentes is investigating what has been done in the past for diversity, what aspects have been successful and why some of the things haven’t gained as much attention. He wants to rework it into something people can get engaged in and really partake in.

“We’ve been humble enough to say, maybe we haven’t got [celebrating diversity] right yet and rather than rush something out, how do we pause and as a school community start to engage one another in thoughtful conversation about [diversity], so that when we start to move forward it’s something that everyone feels good about and excited about and can kind of support,” said Dr. Koulentes.

Mrs. Jennifer Uliks, student activities director, shared similar insight as Dr. Koulentes: “[The change is] more of a reframe. So we’re going from a week of concentrated celebration to how can we make [the celebration of diversity] a fabric of LHS throughout the year [and] how can we celebrate diversity authentically in the things that we do month to month, day to day?”

Moving forward, some of the conversation will be geared to students, potentially through the Principal Advisory Board and other clubs, since Dr. Koulentes has spent a lot of time already talking to staff.

Under the DARING mission, it describes how D128 values diversity; Dr. Koulentes reiterated that statement: “As you go off into the world, you need to be aware of who you are as a human being and your identity, but you also need to be aware of others who are different than you. You need to understand those differences and understand the similarities and how you can interact in a positive, collaborative, constructive manner. If we don’t have that skill, our world and our society will be kind of fractured and people will only know how to work with people who are like them.”

According to Dr. Koulentes, some teachers are thinking of ways they can incorporate that awareness and building collaboration and communication skills in the classroom, but also the school community as a whole.

New this school year, Dr. Koulentes has implemented an equity leadership team comprised of staff members who meet on some Thursdays before school. This group talks about the issues of equity and diversity at LHS. Their main focus is to find a way to include every student and create a way to honor every one of them by recognizing them. According to Mrs. Uliks, these meetings have had a lot of healthy dialogue about ways that LHS can celebrate diversity throughout the entire year. A lot of the change from Diversity Week was prompted from these meetings.

Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, a new position that was only available to current staff is an equity leader position, which will be held by Mrs. Anne Singleton, an English teacher. She will be responsible for working with students and staff and guiding work that encompasses equity at LHS. This was announced on Sunday, March 17, in one of Dr. Koulentes’ regular all-staff newsletters. Interviews for this position occurred for a couple weeks prior to the announcement. This position allows Mrs. Singleton to be released from three of her five classes to work with staff and students throughout the day.

Mrs. Anne Singleton (right), the school’s newly appointed equity leader, discusses the plan for the evening equity meeting for some district staff with fellow English teacher Ms. Sharra Powell. These two teach the class with Ms. Amy Holtsford.

Savanna Winiecki
Mrs. Anne Singleton (right), the school’s newly appointed equity leader, discusses the plan for the evening equity meeting for some district staff with fellow English teacher Ms. Sharra Powell. These two teach the class with Ms. Amy Holtsford.

Moving forward, Mrs. Uliks will be in charge of supporting the ideas that Mrs. Singleton has as well as helping the clubs at LHS find their voice and ways they can celebrate diversity in ways they feel comfortable.

“We’re all diverse in so many ways. It’ll be nice to look at things globally and [look at] how we can celebrate our differences … I’m just super excited about the potential and what it can be and I love to empower our kids and allow them to run with their ideas and support them. I think the best ideas come from students,” said Mrs. Uliks.

There are no specific plans for the upcoming years. Mrs. Uliks herself envisions events throughout the entire year like the “Dare to Empower” lunches for females and female-identifying students that took place last month and the “STEAM Day for Girls” that occurred a couple weeks ago.

As for this year, LHS will partake in the WE Project, a movement committed to service, during National Volunteers Week from April 10-15. The goal of this project is to unite LHS around service to the local and global community.

Dr. Koulentes emphasized this does not replace Diversity Week by any means. But for now, until the plans for the changing Diversity Week are figured out, the WE Project will “still celebrate what it means to be a Wildcat … [and] still bring people together and give people a real project to do during that time,” said Dr. Koulentes.