I’ve been in the Unit 5 School System for over 11 years, meaning I have gone to school with the same kids since elementary school. We all used to eat lunch and play during recess together; however, that feeling of camaraderie does not exist anymore.
I've experienced, as have many others, the realities of 'bias' as I've matured.
Ideas, people and the environment that surround us shape our innocent minds in both good and bad ways as we grow older. These external sources of influence could be new-found friends, teachers or even a parent's banter.
Influences that give rise to a negative bias often result in students becoming ignorant about and close-minded toward others.
What caught my attention when I first heard about Not In Our School (NIOS) was the use of the world 'inclusive' in the NIOS mission statement - 'building safe and inclusive environments in schools.'
From my vantage point, most of the uninformed attitudes in school are due to the lack of exposure to other cultures and differences.
So as President of NIOS, I focus heavily on making our club an opportunity for students to get to know more about the diversity of our student body.
We have held a Culture and Religion Fair during school and the one stipulation for the NIOS members was to choose a culture/religion you were not very knowledgeable about to become better informed.
As part of our meetings, we hold discussions on current issues to broaden students’ horizons and to hear different viewpoints.
Furthermore, we conduct outreach to Unit 5 elementary schools to start students thinking of inclusion at an early age.
Most of the funds we raise come from selling signs, posters, and pins with the mantra: 'No Matter Where You Are From, We’re Glad You’re Our Neighbor'. Seeing the signs in almost every teacher’s door has positively impacted our school. Students feel welcome especially because we have many immigrants.
I am overwhelmed by the difference we make in our school environment.
At NIOS, we are bipartisan and firmly believe that through open-minded education and cultural exposure, our school environment will become even more inclusive.
The importance of a school with culturally aware students is a supportive school environment where students are free to unlock their full potential.
On a personal note; NIOS has helped strengthen my leadership and speaking skills. I have gained so many new speaking opportunities which hone my abilities every time I have the chance to speak.
I've also learned that organizing events is tougher than it appears as is applying the art of compromise when dealing with students and adults who share differing perspectives.
If you want to get out of your comfort zone and truly grow, I highly recommend Not In Our School.
It has changed my outlook on the world.
Kavya Sudhir, Veteran Scholar
McLean County Diversity Project