The requirements for a primary or secondary teacher's recertification in Virginia include several specialized training modules. One is the Cultural Competency Training, which was added in 2021. This training stresses strengths based pedagogy to "provide all students with opportunities to learn in environments that stimulate intellectual curiosity and engagement." The Virginia Department of Education includes the following statement in Cultural Competency Training: "Across the Commonwealth, students enter classrooms with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, and cultures. These differences provide us with opportunities to celebrate learning from and about each other with the central goal of making sure every student realizes his or her true potential." Throughout this module it stresses building trust through community engagement.
Another required training module was developed through Old Dominion University regarding Regulations Governing the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in Elementary and Secondary Schools in Virginia. Throughout the training, the following is stressed: "School should be a safe and healthy environment in which America's children can learn, develop, and participate in instructional programs that promote high levels of academic achievement." One of the key components of creating safe and supportive school environments is maintaining social-emotional well-being so that everyone feels "free from perceived or actual risk" at school and school-related events. In addition to physical safety, the module stresses the importance of respect for diversity. The goal for this module was in recognizing the need to create trauma-sensitive schools, or places where "all students feel safe, welcomed, and supported, and where addressing trauma's impact on learning on a school-wide basis is at the center of its educational mission," because these are safe and supportive environments. The training module includes strategies for resolving conflict, acknowledgement of common triggers, and the importance of communicating dignity, respect, and consistency.
Now, why am I sharing this? I attended my son's very first Track and Field meet this week at North Fork Middle School (NFMS). It was hosted by Mountain View High School (MVHS). I'm extremely grateful for the time, preparation, and support of the children that the coaches, the MVHS track students, and other community volunteers put into the event. So much diverse parental and community involvement was required for this meet to happen. But, as I sat down on the bleachers and as I watched my son compete in five events, none of this was on my mind. Instead, I was all too cognizant of something else: a large sign that read "Stonewall Jackson High School" with the old Generals logo that was originally designed as a Confederate soldier flying a Confederate flag. Someone had placed it strategically against the chain-link fence near the MVHS track students and in such a way that it greeted the entrance to the track area from NFMS. After my son finished competing, I returned to my car and I cried, heartbroken by the continued harassment against community members like me that raised their voices three years ago for public school names that better aimed for what the teacher recertification training aims at: diversity, equality, safety, sociol-emotional well-being, positive experiences, welcome and safe school environments.
When I saw that sign, one word rose in my gut: oppression. Thomas Jackson, Robert Lee, and Turner Ashby fought for legalized oppression. And it continues to linger even today.
For Christians, today is Good Friday. Other observances for today: the Second Day of Passover, the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Rwanda Genocide and Tutsi Genocide Memorial Day, Student Government Day, Mozambican Woman's Day, and Health Day. As a Christian, I have been reflecting this Lenten season on Jesus' example in the world. Would Jesus have been a pro-Confederacy advocate? Would he have fought to enslave African Americans? Would he have walked with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights time period? Would he have donned a hood and rode with the KKK to intimidate African Americans in the community? Would he have kept schools segregated? Would he have taunted his community members by keeping signs at the ready for anyone to access and reuse at their whim to make an unnecessary point? I can't speak for Jesus. But many of these people who did enslave African Americans, who did ride with the KKK, who did segregate schools, and who are harassing their fellow community members are Christians.
I hold the School Board responsible for this situation and I ask them to do what they promised to do three years ago: really retire the names Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School and continue to commit to retiring these names.
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SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over seven years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.