Guest editorial: Programs like Welcoming Schools empower educators to protect our youth
To the misfits, others, non-conforming, unpopular, weirdos and outspoken: You have my infinite support and utmost admiration. Know that I walk alongside you. No topic is banned from my dinner table. Insults are a manifestation of someone else’s pain and ignorance. Human behaviors that go unchecked stem from a lack of vocabulary and unwillingness to seek understanding.
My name is Rachel Pittard. My pronouns are she, her and hers. I am a Park City resident, an advocate for youth development, a proud gay human, and someone who never fit in at school.
Owning and celebrating your individuality is the most powerful advantage you can possess. Your uniqueness is what can fulfill you and lead to happiness. I argue that the “others” are the keepers of solutions to age-old problems. Your authentic perspectives are what will leave this world and your family (given or chosen) in a better place.
Dig this: Each of us is a container of energy. Energy 1) can neither be created nor destroyed, and 2) energy does not stop traveling — it is transferred. In fact, it travels infinitely in all directions. Regardless of your container size, shape, color, orientation, birth place, socio economic status, etc., your energy’s footprint is taller than the mountains that surround Park City. Your energy’s reach is in fact more expansive than the universe.
The cease-and-desist letter submitted to the Park City School District by Solon Law regarding the Welcoming Schools program sparked a mandatory reflection on why anti-bullying prevention programs are required by Utah state law. Education professionals are the “guardians” of our children between the first and last bell of the day, during after-school activities, and while on the bus.
School staff are the first responders to behavior, much like EMTs are to an accident scene. They need equipment to recognize and treat fallout. Left unchecked, emotional injuries do irreparable damage. Each of us has a limited capacity for pain and scars. Those with no support system develop unhealthy ways of self protection. Professional development offered by Welcoming Schools empowers educators to 1) raise their voices on behalf of those who don’t yet have the words, and 2) to send signals to students that school is a safe place for them.
Utah’s staggering youth suicide and LGBTQ+ youth homelessness rate is shameful. Many agencies and private donors work to develop mental health safety nets for kids. Promoting self love and celebrating individuality is a no-brainer extension of this net.
If every adult supported a small piece of Welcoming Schools at local and state school board meetings, we could demonstrate to our kids that we care about spaces which support rather than harm them.
I am reminded of that joyous time on Park City’s Main Street when 2000-plus people gathered for the fourth-annual Shot Ski event. We, the community, simultaneously lifted 2,500 feet of connected skis together — just over 1 ton of material. And together, we took a drink. For a brief moment, we were united in anticipation and celebration. We helped Sunrise Rotary raise $40,000 for its amazing community projects. Needless to say, I support the notion that lifting up children and celebrating what makes them unique is even more satisfying and just as DOABLE as the Shot Ski.
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