Teri Orr: In an increasingly diverse Park City, let’s model the behavior we want our children to see
It had the makings of a small riot or the very least a major kerfuffle. Television cameras had set up and journalists with notepads were at the ready. The audience was made up of the single most passionate people … forget national politics. These were Park City parents and a more vocal, active group exists nowhere on the planet.
The good news is the parents in this community/district have ample access to the school board and its president — who showed up at the gathering in a coffee shop and spoke briefly — as best he could with possible pending litigation. He was very clear — the school district “would be acting in the best interest of all the children in the district and their choices or things that were no choice of theirs.” A group of mothers and teachers lead the conversation, along with a facilitator who was skilled and mature and kind and firm in her direction of the crowd who ALL wanted to be heard. “Our children are watching us,” she said calmly, “so let’s model for them … as adults.”
If you have missed the debate, the topic is a national teaching program created for teachers to have the language and the tools to address all families — regardless of their makeup and the gender choices of their offspring. To be schooled as it were in the language of inclusion and diversity.
Broken down, it means this program helps teachers with the best language to help young people understand and accept families and individuals that may be different from their own. Bobby might have two moms at home and Sally might have two dads. And Jim might have been born Jim but now identifies as Jane. And a human at birth named Susan might now want to be called Sam. And the family that moved to the school whose origins are Indian as opposed to Native American or black from Ethiopia or Chicago. Our community is increasingly diverse. Our teachers need the tools to explain that to young students — not with language that divides and is political but as with all things with young people — the simplest language that gives accurate information — appropriate to the age of the child.
When I moved to Park City in the late ’70s this was not a topic we addressed. The Boy Scouts only met at the LDS church — so if you had a little boy and I did — and he wanted to be in Scouts and he did — the bus would stop on Tuesdays at the church and he would get off there with the other boys for a meeting. Eventually, the local Rotary Club sponsored a troop so boys who weren’t Mormon could meet in a place that was not that church.
It seems so simple and obvious but I can assure you it was a very controversial move back then for Rotary to take on that highly charged topic where diversity of religion/beliefs needed space.
Park City has its roots in the mining culture and we Seventies Settlers learned right away — back then — there was proud tradition of making way for all stripes needed to get the jobs done. The jobs of teaching and policing and cooking for large groups and building schools and churches. The politics of the town have always been more blue than red because all mining camps filled with laborers generally were. But the state — then as now — was overwhelmingly, decidedly, red.
For a very long time some of us California refugees referred to ourselves here as trying to be a little blue raft in a sea of red. The town didn’t always look like this — behave like this. And in those days we were all working so hard to build a town we didn’t care about anyone’s particular bent or color or politics as much as: would they show up to help with the book fair at the school or the clean-up day in the spring at the park or volunteer to help with the ski races where international skiers came — long, long before we dreamt we could host the world.
And then some marketing genius came up with the slogan “The world is welcome here” for the Olympics and we waved that flag for years before the Games arrived. And we wave it still … and yet … we act surprised when we say the world is welcome here — that they actually showed up. To buy fancy homes or rent practical spaces. To work multiple jobs to live here or have no need for one at all. So the town I moved to in the ’70s is no longer the town I live in. And the irony is I have lived in the exact same house since 1980. And the parents here who were all my age, maybe older, are now the grandparents and the parents are the ages of my children and younger.
The other day I was especially touched by the teacher who said — in her middle school classroom — she had to talk to her students about a parent who had been arrested, another who had been deported. There was a teacher who said her son had come out to his teacher first — when he was 12 and she was grateful for that teacher who so lovingly was there for him.
The statistics are pretty ugly about the suicide rate for children in Utah. They are high and climbing and well over the national average. The reasons vary but we do know LGBTQ kids are eight times more likely to attempt to kill themselves. If there is one more well-informed, better-trained teacher who can help them feel good about themselves, we have to agree we all want that teacher to have great training. And if the majority of those suicidal kids have been bullied for any reason and we can collectively learn ways to defuse some of that bullying — any of it — we should — we must — collectively agree — we will.
If we say we care about our children in this community and we do say that loudly and with millions of dollars of support through various nonprofits and the schools themselves — then we have to model the behaviors we want our children to see. All our children. And we have to care for each other not just when there is a hot topic but each day including Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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“There are times when the universe just sets you spinning and last weekend was one of those,” writes Teri Orr.