To be sure, the local school board election has occupied much of the recent bandwidth in our district. Amidst the spaces that harbor and stimulate the cacophony of negativity, there appears to be a heightened sense of urgency from many to simply find a way to allow ourselves to once talk again with one another without fear, judgment or personal attack.
In many ways, our district is but a small microcosm of what is playing out on the national stage. Lines have been drawn, sides have been taken and one’s personal armor has been fortified with so many layers that it is difficult to always demonstrate authentic vulnerability and to extend and accept genuine compassion in every space, in every interaction.
I know I have fallen short in both the former and the latter. I have never been one to put up walls, but the collective experiences throughout the past year has resulted in the exterior of my emotional self to be a little more rigid, a bit more guarded and far more vigilant than I have ever been before. I know others have felt that same hurt and pain and theirs is equally valid. At times, my wall has caused me to be defensive and has impeded my ability to fully hear what another truly needs me to hear in a way that honors and validates their truth; for that I am sorry and I must do better. I am grateful to those who have kept me honest – and will keep me honest – in this endeavor.
Much of the deep sadness that I have felt throughout this election season – on the national, state and local level – has been compounded when I hear well-intentioned people dismiss, disregard and devalue those who may not be the “right kind” of American or the “right kind” of Stillwater student.
It is my belief, based on my years of lived experiences in this community and testimonies from families, staff and others in this district that far too many of our students are rendered invisible and cast aside to the margins of our system because they are not enough of a “typical” Stillwater student.
They are not of financial means. They do not speak English as their first language. They do not have an influential mother or father. They do not learn nor process information the same way as their peers. They do not live in Stillwater. They are not an athlete. They are not able bodied. They are not heterosexual. They are not an honor student. They are not Christian. They are not from a 2 parent home. They do not have a home. They are not socially connected in this community. They are not white.
I am both an immigrant and a United States citizen. America is my country that I love, and yet I have to prove that time and time again to too many people because of how I look. Many of our students are asked to do the same.
Students who don’t obviously appear to be “from here” must constantly justify their right to be in their own district. They may not be 3rd, 4th or 5th generation, they may not speak English as well as some and they may live outside of town or even in Woodbury, they may not go to church, but they have every right to the same high quality education as anyone else.
More importantly, they have the same desire and ability to achieve as any other student. We do not do our community any favors by sending the message that only certain students are accepted, valued or deserving of being here in our district.
Two years ago, when I ran for school board, my website was www.paula4allkids.com. I know “all kids” has become a trite and overused cliché for some and we must ask ourselves why that is.
We know our system is not working for all of our kids and we know the system is outright failing too many kids who identify within a certain group or groups. This is not okay. We cannot allow it to be okay. I will continue to advocate and fight for the voices of those who do not have a seat at the table.
If you are still undecided about who to cast your three votes for school board, I invite you to listen very closely to how each candidate speaks about the students who may have different needs and different abilities.
Is difference talked about as a deficit? Is it seen as something to be fixed or as a burden that the district “must deal with”? Or is difference seen as the asset and strength that it is – an opportunity to broaden our world view, to learn alongside and grow together as we gain more clarity and appreciation about ourselves and one another? What does your candidate know, say and believe about equity? Do they truly understand the meaning and how will they work to operationalize it for all students? Will your candidate be an ally to mindfully disrupt a system that is fraught with barriers which disproportionately affect certain kids? Which candidates talk about some of our students as liabilities, as less capable, as less deserving of resources and support and just less than?
From my perspective, there is a profound distinction amongst what the candidates are saying about our kids and I am asking you to please pay close attention. Your vote is your voice and it absolutely matters for all of our students.
— Paula O’Loughlin