On Saturday, April 22, high school students from across the southeastern portion of the state, along with teachers, parents, community members, and school personnel, came together for Kennett High School’s 16th Annual Multicultural and Diversity Awareness Conference. The day was full of thought-provoking workshops organized by a student committee and led by students, educators, and adults, all well versed in multicultural affairs. The event was kicked off by program coordinator Mr. Ray Fernandez, Assistant Principal of Kennett High School.
Mr. Fernandez opened the conference by discussing what he hoped it would accomplish for the students in attendance. “First,” he announced, “we want you to be involved in the key discussions surrounding these issues.” Mr. Fernandez went on to explain how leadership starts with understanding your purpose; learning to ask why you’re here goes a long way in understanding this complex and ever-changing society. He continued by highlighting the importance of collaboration and how communicating with more people will help students accomplish their goals. Third, he expressed his wish that the students would share their new knowledge with their peers and community. “Nothing in these rooms is copyrighted,” he said. “Share what you learn here with everyone you can.” Last, he told the students that he just wanted them to enjoy the day, to celebrate their differences and similarities, enjoy good food, and celebrate everyone’s different talents.
Following those thoughtful words, superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti applauded Mr. Fernandez’s hard work in making the Multicultural and Diversity Conference a highly anticipated event for the District for 16 years. Next to the podium was Kennett High School student Keyanna Phipps, in her first-ever public speech. Keyanna eloquently introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Richard Dunlap, an educational consultant and former superintendent for the Upper Darby School District.
Dr. Dunlap began by telling the audience that “diversity means different things to different people. To some it means race, to some it means religion, and to others it means gender identity or sexual orientation.” He continued his speech by discussing the concept of gestalt to the audience. “Have you heard of the saying, ‘The whole is more than the sum of the parts’? What is it that makes up the ‘more’?” he asked, concluding, “Above all, it is the connections we make, the relationships that we build, that make up the whole.”
Dr. Dunlap encouraged the students to do four things. First, to stay engaged in conversations inside the workshops as well as outside the conference. Next, he asked students not to be afraid to speak their truths. Third, he encouraged students to embrace the discomfort that would inevitably find them in these thought-provoking discussions. Finally, he alerted them that they should not expect closure from their experiences; issues might be left unresolved.
The day included two workshop sessions, a wonderful lunch buffet filled with options that reflected the diverse backgrounds of the students, and a team-building session led by Mr. Fernandez that gave students from different schools the opportunity to connect. The day concluded with a student talent show.
Mr. Fernandez is the advisor for UNIDAD, the Kennett High School club that assisted in planning and running the event. The students help set up, clean up, and run registration. Ana Gutierrez, Montserrat Garcia, and Elaine Esparza, all juniors at Kennett High School, helped at the registration tables. They agreed that the conference “gives students a day to be proud of their differences and opens opportunities to learn fascinating things about their own culture as well as the cultures of others.”
Students from 16 different schools attended the conference. Mr. Fernandez explains, “We are all unique, but we share the same dreams, struggles, and fears. It is this joining together and the safe space we provide at this conference that helps students realize that although we may be slightly different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside.”