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SANDY — Teachers and students in the Canyons School District gathered Monday for the second leg of tolerance training taught by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Last month, some district students voluntarily attended sensitivity training prompted by a March incident where an Alta High student wore a white hood some believed resembled a Ku Klux Klan hood during a spirit assembly. Each grade dressed in a specific color to show school pride. Picture messages of burning crosses were traded among students in the aftermath.
We need to keep schools in which everyone feels safe and feels welcome.
Maureen Costello with the Southern Poverty Law Center is leading the two-day training. She said she has seen a "tremendous willingness" from students, staff and the community to learn about building a safe learning environment for people of all kinds.
"We need to keep schools in which everyone feels safe and feels welcome," Costello said.
During the training discussions last month, students opened up and shared with each other the ways in which they alone are different in the middle and high school environments where they experience pressure to feel like they're part of a group.
"It's not just the obvious difference that we may see but it's also the ones that are inside," Costello said. "As people realized that everybody sometimes feels like the only one, what you're doing is you're building some kind of empathy. It's hard to hate people that you know, that you've sat down and talked to."
Alli Martin, an English teacher at Alta High, attended Monday's training and said she hopes to be able to take the tools she is learning back to her colleagues so they can work to improve their school's environment.
"Teachers are very interested in creating schools where students can learn," Martin said. "I think a lot of the problems that we had at Alta stemmed from a lack of awareness, not necessarily an outright hatred, but just an ignorance of the diversity at our school."
Written by Nkoyo Iyamba with contributions from Molly Farmer.