Teaching tolerance means embracing the rainbow of diversity, and encouraging others to do the same.
A decade ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center launched a national “Mix It Up at Lunch Day” campaign to encourage students to identify, question and cross social boundaries every year on Oct. 30. Surveys conducted by the SPLC revealed that students identify the school cafeteria as the location on campus where divisions among the student body are felt the most.
The Mix It Up peer activity asks students to leave their comfort zones of familiarity in friends and routine, and try to establish new relationships and meet some of the strangers they see near their lockers, in the hallway and even in their classroom.
Last week was Bullying Prevention Week at Tahlequah Middle School, and one of the many activities geared toward promoting positive interaction and peer acceptance was a Mix It Up at Lunch Day. The event was received with mixed reviews, said TMS Preventionist Fred Poteete.
“Some of the younger kids did well, and some of the older kids rebelled against it,” he said. “Not everything that we don’t like is bad for us. They didn’t like it because they couldn’t be with their friends.”
The interaction only lasted a short time, Poteete said.
“We let them eat and sit with each other for 15 to 20 minutes, and the last 10 minutes, we let them go outside,” he said. “So some of the younger kids were a lot more receptive to it, and that just has to do with their hearts being younger and more moldable. As they get older, as we get older, our hearts get hard, and we don’t like change.”
The students received one of four colors marked on their hands and were expected to share a table with students who had the same color.
“We upset their normal apple cart, but my goal was just for kids to get to know somebody else and to find out, ‘You know, they’re not quite as different from me than I thought they were, and I do have something in common with someone I don’t run around with all the time,’” said Poteete. “It’s a life skill to me. They’re not going to always get to be around the people they want to be around. Once they get to know someone that is, quote, ‘a little different’ than them, they find that ‘man, they’re not quite so different from me after all.’”
Though the activity was part of anti-bullying activities, some local residents began circulating an email from a group called the American Family Association that painted the event and the Oct. 30 national Mix It Up at Lunch Day campaign as a “radical Southern Poverty Law Center behind gay indoctrination program specifically directed at elementary and junior high” students.
The Daily Press received a copy of the email from one of its faith page contributors. Among those apparently instigating the local email campaign was a former candidate for political office. The Press also had at least two calls from people complaining that members of their churches were circulating the email.
Poteete said he was unaware of the email, and stressed the activity is simply about protecting the rights of others in a public setting like a school campus.
“I think they’re using it as an opportunity to bash the Southern [Poverty] Law [Center] or people teaching tolerance,” he said. “I’m caught in the middle because I want to protect the kid, whether he’s a homosexual or he’s not a homosexual. It doesn’t matter what they’re being singled out for or being bullied for or being picked on for. I want to do whatever I can to resolve that and try to change those mores here at school.”
Poteete attended a national bullying conference last September, and he got to meet a student from Sioux City, Iowa, who had appeared in the movie “Bully.” He also heard several parents speak whose children had died as a result of bullying.
“Some of it was about gay and lesbian, transgender, but we don’t focus on it,” Poteete said. “I’m totally about protecting those kids’ rights here at school. I can’t control it away from school, but I can on the bus or in athletics. They have just as much right to be protected as someone [who’s] Asian or African-American or Native American, Caucasian; or because of their religion or ethnic group; or whether they wear glasses, or they’re a little overweight or real skinny; or whether they’re real short or real tall, blonde-headed, blue-eyed or don’t wear a certain type of clothes. [It doesn’t matter if they’re in] athletics or band or in choir or FFA. People get picked on for all those reasons because they’re different from someone else.”
The AFA email called for parents across the nation to call school principals to demand their school refuse to participate in Mix it Up activities. The email even suggested keeping children home from school Oct. 30 so they wouldn’t have to interact with students who might be gay.
The SPLC posted a response on its website, calling AFA’s labeling of Mix It Up at Lunch Day as a gay indoctrination program an “out-and-out lie.” The post, headlined “Mix It Up and the AFA,” said the activity “is a simple effort to get students to break through social boundaries and make new friends. Each school sets its own agenda, makes it own plans and chooses its own theme.” The website stated that over 3,000 schools participated in 2011, without incident.
“First of all, your leadership has to support it, and [TMS Principal] Mrs. Mashburn totally supports [our bullying prevention efforts and activities], and our superintendent, Lisa Presley, totally supports what we’re doing,” said Poteete. “I teach a fifth-grade class every day, and we talk about social bullying, relational bullying. If someone lives on Basin Street and someone lives by Greenwood; maybe they don’t have a car or maybe their car’s beat-up. Your dad may be a city worker and or president of Northeastern State University. That doesn’t make you a better person. What makes you a good person is how you treat other people, and that’s the kind of things I talk to kids about.”
An email circulated by certain community members claims a call for tolerance is a move to recruit youth into the ‘gay lifestyle.’
Teaching tolerance means embracing the rainbow of diversity, and encouraging others to do the same.
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Third Thursday Art Walk
Shoppers will have a chance to visit downtown merchants in the evening during the Tahlequah Main Street Association’s first Third Thursday Art Walk and After Party on Thursday, March 20.
Participating downtown businesses will keep their doors open to offer specials until 8 p.m., and artists will display their work at different locations. Art exhibitors, including the Cherokee Art Center’s Spider Gallery, will stay open late.
Sex offender bill reaches House
By a unanimous 44-0 vote of the Oklahoma Senate, a bill that would make it more difficult for registered sex offenders to change their names has reached the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 1421, authored by Kyle Loveless, Oklahoma City Republican, underwent its first reading in the House on Feb. 27.
Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said he did not know of any instances, during his service with the department, of registered sex offenders evading detection with new names for any length of time.
SB 1497 may aid transparency
Government transparency advocates were pleased, and some were surprised, when a proposed bill designed to strengthen Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act passed the Senate Judicial Committee recently.
Senate Bill 1497, by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, would allow citizens who are denied access to public meetings to bring civil lawsuits, and if the court rules in favor, to collect attorney’s fees. A continuing resolution has already been filed.
Should the legislation pass into law, it would become effective Nov. 1 this year.
Moulton: Sovereignty is John Ross’ legacy
When describing the Cherokee people, the words “well-educated” and “independent” may come to mind. Those attributes were principles held most dear by John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokees from 1828-1866.
Dr. Gary Moulton, University of Nebraska Thomas C. Sorensen emeritus professor of American history, discussed Ross’ history during a presentation at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center Thursday. The event was organized by the history department at Northeastern State University.
The bear facts
A joint project linking two state agencies with researchers at Oklahoma State University is gathering the “bear facts” on a growing population in the northeastern part of the state.
A six-year study on black bears in Cherokee, Adair and Sequoyah counties is being conducted as a precursor to possible establishment of a controlled hunting season in Green Country. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management of Oklahoma State University have partnered for the endeavor.
Drug task force seizes K2 at a Tahlequah house
The District 27 Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force seized between $200 and $300 worth of synthetic drugs during a bust Friday.
The Tahlequah Police Department and the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service were also in on the raid. Members of the task force hope the seizure will aid in an ongoing investigation to find larger suppliers.
“We received information that sales were being made from a residence off Choctaw Street,” said Michael Moore, task force director. “Further investigation led to a state search warrant based on the federal Schedule I list of drugs.”
Citizens can report sight obstructions to city
On Feb. 25-26, the Tahlequah Fire Department responded to motor vehicle accidents at South Muskogee Avenue and South Street, and since that time, a few citizens have expressed concern about the sight lines at the intersection.
A visit to the intersection showed that, for traffic westbound on South, the view south down Muskogee is partially obstructed by shrubbery and a tree that appear to be on private property.
Spears: OSRC should help boost business
In a little over 25 years, Arrowhead Resort owner Jack Spears has grown his business from being the smallest float operator on the Illinois River to the second-largest, and he’d like to continue on that path.
Spears believes tourism is vital to the Tahlequah area. He says if the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission would eliminate a zoning issue along the river, both the agency and his own business would reap the benefits.
Spears recently asked the OSRC to consider doing away with recreational floating zones. Commercial flotation device licenses are granted to operators in each area for a total of 3,900 licenses.
Last-place swine earns top sale bid
Local businessmen drew regional attention through a record-setting bid of $10,000 at the Cherokee County Spring Livestock Show last Saturday, but now they say they don’t want the recognition.
The annual show, which ends with a premium sale featuring top winners, is a fundraiser for local FFA and 4-H participants. Proceeds help cover the animals’ expenses or are used for future projects or showings. Community members, organizations and businesses bid on the livestock, but it is not a purchase. The children showing get to keep their animals.
Hulbert man involved in standoff didn’t own illegal guns
Further investigation into the Friday standoff between a Hulbert man and law enforcement has not yet produced any weapons charges.
A search warrant executed after the incident uncovered several firearms inside the trailer in which Michael Wyatt Earp, 42, was living. Law enforcement officers and agents were concerned that some weapons were fully automatic.
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