The mission of the Olympia Needs Diverse Books (ONDB) project is to bring more diverse books, movies, and magazines into the Olympia High School (OHS) Library, so that all students may see themselves and/or increase understanding of others within our diverse world while reading books, watching movies, or reading magazines from our collection. The ONDB project follows the national campaign led by the organization We Need Diverse Books in defining diversity as “all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” OHS believes it is critical for all students to feel as though they belong and are valued.
In May of 2015, our community became divided when a local, African-American male was shot by a white police officer. The Black Lives Matter Movement was in full swing and racial tensions within our school were heightening each day. Shortly after, students placed posters in the halls in support of Black Lives Matter and a staff member removed them; while a challenge, this event demonstrated a need to bring our school community together. Led by students, a large spirit rock was painted in support of Black History Month. Within a few hours the rock was defaced with messages of hate and racial epithets. Our students partnered with our staff to form an essential team that used a structured method of conversation, a Community Café, to bring nearly 250 students together and engage in a conversation about race. The event went so well that the group decided to host an evening Café for our community. Leaders of the police department, school administrators, community leaders, parents, and students came together to lift up our community and make recommendations for healing. As a result of the Community Café, the school district partnered with a local college and provided cultural competency training for all of our teachers. These monumental steps for our community were made possible because our school and community want to improve. This is work that we are still engaging in nearly two and a half years later.
Last year, students worked with school administrators to create a new course at our school, American Ethnic Studies, where students study contemporary issues of many racial and ethnic groups. For the first time in OHS history, this course is now available to students. The American Ethnic Studies course uses a thematic approach to examine the history, politics, society, economics, and cultural attributes of various racial and ethnic groups in the United States; it strives to develop the equity, literacy, and cultural competency of students by providing a comprehensive approach to studying contemporary issues affecting racial and ethnic groups. The monies awarded from the Inspire Collection Development Grant will help support instruction within this class by bolstering our selection of multicultural literature for students to select from for free-choice reads. Students currently enrolled in this class will be invited to work with the OHS Teacher-Librarian to recommend and select titles to add to our library collection.
A large portion of Olympia High School’s Site Improvement Plan focuses on student equity: “[a]ll teachers will receive diversity training that includes a reflective activity related to Cultural Competency, equity literacy training, anti-bias training, and skills for dealing with ‘hot moments’ in the classroom. They will also receive ongoing training that will assist in supporting our students of color.” As a staff we continue to implement multicultural curriculum and teaching strategies throughout the school and work to change our preconceptions of students entering our classes, so they can be supported in changing negative self-beliefs. In addition to having these climate goals for our school, OHS also has a building Equity Team that is composed of students, staff, and faculty. The Inspire Collection Development Grant will allow the OHS Library to significantly impact the diversity of books within our collection with input from students, staff, and community members.