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LOJ holds first annual Better Together Day featuring student and community member workshops

PMG PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - LOJ student Cora Brown leading a session about controversial historical monuments.Lake Oswego Junior High students had a unique day of school Friday, May 24. Teachers and staff at the school organized Better Together Day, a day full of presentations and workshops by community members, parents and students grounded in culture, diversity, the arts, social issues and advocacy.

Teachers and staff at Lake Oswego Junior High have spent the last school year working together to make the school a more inclusive and equitable community, and Better Together Day is one result of their efforts.

"I was extremely proud of the students, staff, and community members who made this such a special event," said LOJ principal Kevin Mills. "It was amazing to see the students learning and engaging around important topics."PMG PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Presenter Diana Cutia leads a student-bonding assemblty at the beginning of Better Together Day.

Students self-selected which workshops they wanted to attend each class period. "We wanted to give students a choice so that each student gets the most out of the day," said Amy Espinosa, LOJ's Response to Intervention coordinator.

Students and parents were responsible for coming up with their own topics, and were paired with teachers to help them design their lessons to best reach their audience. The teachers were also present during the sessions to support the presenter, and the lessons aligned with the "culturally responsive focus we have been implementing at LOJ," according to Mills.

The workshops spanned a variety of topics, from Salsa dancing to the college admissions process. Students from Lake Oswego elementary and high schools led workshops to bring their unique perspectives to LOJ students.

"This day provided access for students to experience many different cultures, learn about their own superpowers, and become more united as a school," Mills said.

One presentation led by LOJ student Cora Brown, titled "A painful legacy or a proper recognition? Monuments, locations and mascots," provided students with information and conversation about existing Confederate monuments throughout the country. Brown asked students to think about whether the monuments are an appropriate tribute to southerners who fought in the Civil War, or if they are racist reminders of the country's history of slavery.PMG PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - LOJ students work on posters about mental health awareness during a LOJ student Leila Mussones workshop.

"What are some solutions for how we can preserve history on both sides of an issue without offending anybody?" Brown asked.

Timothy Hall, a seventh grade science teacher at LOJ, reminded students, "Information is not toxic; new information is good."

A few classrooms down, LOJ student Leila Mussone led a session about mental health awareness, supported by her father and LOJ counselor Molly Healy. Students were educated about mental health, and asked to create posters to spread awareness of mental illness. Mussone suggested phrases for the posters such as "Pain is real — but so is hope," and "Mental illness is not a choice, but recovery is."

The driving force behind Better Together Day was the school's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, made up of LOJ teachers and staff.

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