Regular classes were bypassed Friday at Fremont Middle School for the school’s first Arts and Culture Day.
The day was separated into three events: the yearly talent show, an anti-bullying presentation and Aztec dancing from a Portland-based dance group called Ollin Yoliztli.
“Our goal for today was to preach this idea of cultural awareness,” explained Eric Freeman, dean of students at Fremont. “Since Fremont is a community, we are trying to build a community awareness that is appreciative of varying, diverse backgrounds.”
Freeman said part of that awareness is being empathetic towards one another, one of the messages delivered by organizers of Point Break presentation.
According to its website, Point Break describes itself as “a one-day intervention program designed to positively impact the attitudes, behaviors, and values.”
Instead of the full-day program, Point Break did smaller presentations to each grade level. Organizers began with team building, forming four teams for sit down volleyball games to music such as Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Then, the students gathered for a presentation ripe with facts on alcohol use, suicide, bullying and other local student statistics.
“They preach community, they preach building relationships and they also preach that sense of empathy and how to prevent bullying,” Freeman said.
“I don’t believe that we have a significant bullying issue at Fremont, but there are times when kids feel that way,” Fremont Middle School Principal Ben Bentea said.
Bentea that that at one point, the presenter would ask students to raise their hands if they were affected by some of the topics that had been covered, like bullying.
“Its for kids to look around and see ‘hey, I’m not the only one in Fremont that is going through these problems.’ The biggest thing is for kids to recognize they are not alone, that the problems that they have are not unique to them and that there are ways to let those things out,” Bentea said.
The talent show consisted of a wide range of skills, from singing, dance and musical instruments to martial arts, gymnastics and more. Freeman said it provides another opportunity to showcase diversity.
“The talent show gives students a chance to show a side of them that is of interest to them and shows a little diversity about who they might be and it is a chance to showcase a piece of them that maybe their peers would not have known otherwise,” Freeman said.
Juliana Marez, who handles Title VII Indian Education for the Roseburg School District, helped organize the Ollin Yoliztli performance. The Aztec dancers are committed to carrying on the tradition originating from pre-colonial Mexico. Marez said she hoped by bringing the dancers to the school, it would not only bring the curriculum to life, but provide a strong example of self-identity.
“I was looking at the kids, and some of the kids really get it,” Marez said. “This is very self-validating for them. Maybe they are different, maybe they are new and this is showing people who are very proud of who they are and unapologetically who they are. We want our kids to feel that way at school. School should be a place to be who you are.”
The Sutherlin School District School Board voted on Monday to reconfigure grade levels next year in an effort to help evenly distribute students among schools and increase student achievement.
The move toward grade reconfiguration is in response to growing enrollment, limited space and changing student needs. Superintendent Terry Prestianni said in December the change would require substantial classroom reconfiguration.
“Our educational leaders and school board members agree this shift will allow staff to better meet the needs of our students by providing them with a more productive academic experience,” Prestianni said in a news release.
After a recent bond measure to build more infrastructure failed in May 2018, the effort aims to alleviate problems with the capacity of its buildings, teachers, administrators and parking sites.
Third-grade students will move up to West Intermediate Elementary School, and sixth-grade students will move up to Sutherlin Middle School. An additional special education teacher will also allow the district to restructure that program to better serve students.
“We are grateful for the support of our students, parents, staff and community as we undergo this process to ensure our children are receiving the best education possible,” Prestianni said.
The district will hold future parent meetings to discuss strategies to make the transition as smooth as possible for students, parents and staff.