Since a white nationalist rally brought hateful speech, violence and death to the Charlottesville community on Aug. 12, local educators have been preparing to support students and teach them about what took place.
The superintendents and school board chairs for the Albemarle County and Charlottesville school divisions issued a joint statement Aug. 14 in response to the Unite the Right rally and the violence that surrounded it.
“We are a community that values the safety of every person, the dignity of every resident, the respect of every background, the equality of every opportunity and the strength of every collaboration that promotes the common good,” the statement read. “… We will be known as the community that rededicated itself to the promise of America and to those ideals that define our nation’s highest calling.”
Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins said last week that the city school division was attending to the needs of school leaders and teachers, so that they in turn could attend to the needs of students.
“If we miss these steps, we will miss an opportunity for healing and growth,” Atkins said.
At a division-wide convocation on Aug. 14, Charlottesville teachers and staff sang along to Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” waving green glow sticks in time with the music.
“Music is healing on any level that you engage with it,” said Will Cooke, a choral instructor at Charlottesville High School. “Some people were silent, some sang along, some danced together in the aisles. There really was the most positive feeling.”
Cooke said CHS’ principal, Eric Irizarry, told teachers to prioritize self-care last week, “… because when the students come in [on Wednesday], you have to be ready to make them your No. 1 priority.”
Bernard Hairston, executive director of community engagement for the county schools, said the division’s principals, teachers, counselors and psychologists already have been trained to help their schools respond to traumatic events.
“We feel like, as a school division, we are already prepared to handle a multitude of situations,” Hairston said. “We wanted to remind our school leaders to look at the tools that are already in place.”
Hairston said he has told teachers to keep in mind that their students’ levels of exposure to the events of the Aug. 12 weekend will be greatly varied.
“While some students have had conversations with their parents, some students’ contact with the events may have been very limited by their parents,” Hairston said.
Stephanie Passman, a technology integration specialist at several county schools, said there was consensus among teachers that their first step will be to make sure students feel safe in their community.
“This was a very scary thing for all of us, and it happened in a place where we are often accustomed to feeling very safe,” Passman said.
Melinda D. Anderson, an education writer and contributor to The Atlantic, created the viral hashtag #CharlottesvilleCurriculum on Aug. 12 to crowdsource resources for teaching about what occurred that weekend, and the historical underpinnings of white supremacy in America.