In Beachwood, students from many backgrounds are leading the charge for inclusion, value, respect

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Posted at 5:14 PM, Dec 23, 2021

BEACHWOOD, Ohio — If you take a walk through the halls of Beachwood High School, it’s clear that students in this school district come from all walks of life.

“Families are coming here from quite literally all continents except Antarctica…all are represented in a school system,” said Beachwood City Schools Superintendent Robert Hardis.

And with that much diversity, “we found out that they all want the same thing — they just want it in a different way,” said Kevin Houchins, director of equity and community engagement for the district. “What that thing is — they all want to be seen, they all want to be heard and they want to be respected.”

So with that in mind, students approached administrators with an idea on how to tackle race relations through an initiative called “Many Cultures, One Bison,” referring to the school’s mascot.

“With such a diverse community, and really being an international school, we had to find a way to make this work for kids in which they could bring their full selves and feel like they’re heard, valued and respected,” Houchins said.

Hardis said the initiative was established prior to the pandemic, but as our world changes, and opinions from all sides intensify, their discussions are evolving too.

“Every one of our students is different, and that’s true now more than ever before,” Hardis said. “And we have to really be on our game to do right by them.”

Now, they’re working to establish a community standard for free speech, working hand in hand with school staff, local police and other organizations.

“It’s not just something that will be for classrooms,” Houchins said. “When you walk in, when you come to the sporting event, how do we treat our neighbors and how do we treat ourselves?”

Hardis said it’s not about agreeing on every topic.

“It’s to find kind of a format for respect and listening that we hope, in particular for students of course, that they carry with them moving forward,” he said.

Houchins said that “at the end of the day, people are walking away with a smile on their face saying they do have hope, that they do believe that if in one community we can get something done and where we can unite people, it will be in Beachwood.”