MEXICO — Mountain Valley Middle School students attended workshops Friday on civil rights, diversity and inclusiveness to create a safer and more comfortable atmosphere.

“Whenever we do these activities, it’s to build our sense of community at our school so that all students feel accepted and comfortable and safe in this learning environment,” said Lisa Drapeau, school coordinator for the federally funded Gear Up program, which helps students learn about and set goals for college.

Workshops were led by community members and motivational speaker John Jenkins. a former mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn and ex-state senator.

Eighth-grader Kathryn Rice and seventh-grader River Durant said they learned a lot from the sessions.

Rice said she learned about gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978. She said he was killed “because people are afraid of things that are different than them.”

“And some people were threatened by his differences,” Rice said. “Not only his differences but how he was giving a voice and empowering other people.”

Rice said she appreciated the workshop led by Elyse Pratt-Ronco, assistant director of Upward Bound at the University of Maine in Farmington, who encouraged students to brainstorm and design a school where everyone would feel accepted and comfortable.

“I worked with one other person,” R$ice said, “and we thought about how some students (might need a room for) meditation or for religious purposes or a room to take time out of a school day for people who are maybe stressed about school work.”

Durant said one session that stood out for him was how hate groups use the internet and other means of communication to spread their messages.

“Some of the organizations, from 2008 to 2018, have almost doubled their organizations in the U.S.,” he said.

Many of these organizations now use graphics that are “more peaceful looking, like a (picture of) a tree,” to lure people into their cause, he said.

To avoid becoming part of these types of negative groups, Durant said, “make sure you know about what they are.”

“Research the organization,” he said. “Figure out what they stand for, not just what the ad tells you. Look them up and try to figure it out.”

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Mountain Valley Middle School seventh-grader River Durant, left, and eighth-grader Kathryn Rice participated Friday in workshops on diversity in Mexico.

 

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