Empower a Positive Climate: Celebrate Differences!

“The simple fact that everyone is different—and comfortable with those differences—unites us a community. Being different is what bonds us. ACPA (Arts & College Preparatory Academy, Columbus Ohio) has taught me that “tolerating” people’s differences does not create the empathic society most of us pursue. Rather, celebrating, embracing, and learning what makes people unique has allowed me to discover more about who I am and ultimately has led me to be more of myself than I would have otherwise become.”

These words, written by Tyrese Bowman of the ACPA class of 2015, are prophetic, especially as our nation copes with news of yet another mass shooting tragedy. Is there anything more important for young people to learn in today’s volatile world?

That’s why I’m raising my own voice in support of the ACPA VOICE program, funded by a grant from the US Department of Education to document and share the successful education model under which this unique school operates. As Principal Anthony Gatto and Vice Principal Richard Albeit told me during my tour, ACPA “has a bullying policy that is actually enforced.” Now there’s a concept! Under their strong leadership, the school culture focuses on “values, problem-solving, and communication—not discipline. There are no fights here . . . Notice the open areas. Kids need space.  We give them their space to claim. We give students freedom. We encourage staff and students to take risks.”

The wall murals below, by ACPA students and staff, are all about celebrating differences.

The VOICE curriculum is the essence of how each student, staff member, and administrator can use their VOICE to impact an inclusive culture. There are four program areas:

Uniting Your Voice: Be Kind. Care More. Community. Positive Language. Inclusiveness is something that starts before the student enters the school. Unite the school under the expectation of respect and inclusiveness.

Respecting Your Voice: Rapport. Advocacy. Communication. Discipline. All can foster respect from the student on all levels. Discipline is handled with communication and problem-solving, not punishment.

Defining Your Voice: Hard work. Trailblazer. Initiative. Questioning. Provide a safe environment where students feel they can express themselves, question the norm and speak out for change. Demonstrate that even the most marginalized groups can influence change.

Creating Your Voice: Individual expression. Choice. Flexibility. Creativity. Help students gain a sense of who they are while finding their own VOICE within an inclusive environment.

If your school is facing challenges with bullying, violence, or issues of inequality among student groups, check out VOICE. I issue this personal challenge to the VOICE team: Begin teaching government leaders in Ohio and around the globe how to Raise their Voices and Empower a Positive Climate. ACPA alumni can lead the way.