Lyman fosters an environment of kindness and acceptance

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Lebanon - posted Thu., Dec. 20, 2012
Lyman Memorial High School teachers Kevin Brodie and Liza Escott in a photo taken for the NoH8 campaign, a protest against Proposition 8, passed in California, amending the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

The banners adorning the walls of the atrium at Lyman Memorial High School capture the attention the moment you enter the school. One promotes the International Day of Peace and sports dangling doves in flight. Another features rainbow colors and promotes Spirit and Ally Day for the Gay Straight Alliance. The Peace Rocks are not quite as attention-grabbing but are spread around the landscape outside. They feature bright colors and promote messages such as “Peace” and “Persevere” in different languages. Rocks and banners serve as visual evidence of a very strong movement that is quietly affecting the school community, a movement fostering kindness and acceptance.

Last year, Lyman Memorial High School received a $3,000 grant from the Connecticut Education Association to apply toward its efforts connected to the movement. This year, social studies teacher Kevin Brodie and English teacher Liza Escott were rewarded for previous initiatives through a $5,000 grant. Brodie and Escott head up the Diversity Committee at Lyman, and Escott is the diversity coordinator for the school. There are a large number of different student groups promoting diversity and acceptance in a variety of different ways at Lyman, said Escott, “but not a lot of people are aware of it.”

Banners, rocks and posters “help to make the community aware of activities,” said Escott, as well as help to get more Lyman students involved. There are plans this year to create more visual reminders via positive quotes painted along the tops of hallway walls and murals that will depict core school values chosen by students. The art department will be involved with the murals. Other projects will involve language arts, world language and computer departments. Even statistics is involved through the development of surveys designed to identify wishes for future events. The idea is to involve the entire school, both staff and students, across the disciplines, to help foster a cohesive community within the school.

Other activities planned for the school year include visitors. Connecticut Comptroller Kevin Lembo, the first openly gay individual to be elected to statewide office in the state, appeared earlier this year to speak in favor of tolerance and against bullying. “The response from the students was extremely positive,” said Brodie. Echo Uganda, a drumming group from Africa, will appear later this year. Laila Lalami, a Moroccan-American author and a professor from California, will speak at the school in March.

“Basically, all of these are opportunities we’re able to offer to the students because of the grant,” said Escott. With a larger grant this year, the school will be able to offer the students more support for their largest event of the year – the Diversity Fair at the end of April. Staff and students participate in the fair, as do students from Norwich Free Academy, who can provide perspectives from cultures such as Cape Verde and Haiti. “We have everything from world sports to languages,” said Escott.

“And it grows larger every year,” added Brodie.

Last year’s fair offered demonstrations of Tai Chi, Reiki, curling, world dance, and many other things. “So different opportunities that they might not otherwise have in a small town such as Lebanon,” said Escott.

Other diversity-promoting events at Lyman last year included Wear Purple Day in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and Day of Silence, showing solidarity with those who are silenced by the majority. The events garnered a lot of support from both students and staff, and Brodie and Escott are hopeful that an even higher percentage will participate this year. “None of this would be possible without the support of the staff,” said Escott, who said that staff support, from everyone from administration, to teachers, to the secretarial staff, to the beloved custodian, Jose, has been tremendous.

“And it makes a difference because the students see the support,” said Brodie.

“And it helps them feel safe, it helps them feel comfortable,” added Escott.

The cumulative effect of the combined initiatives has been a tremendous increase in the amount of respect shown for people and property, according to Brodie and Escott. As an example, Escott pointed to paper turkeys utilized for a recent Thanksgiving prize giveaway - one paper turkey for each student taped to the walls of the school. “This was something that, a few years ago, nobody would even have tried,” said Brodie. But not a single turkey was damaged, according to Escott.

Similarly, Escott mentions one of the Peace Rocks, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, that has been outside the school for over a year. “Nobody has taken it,” said Escott. “It moves around. The kids will move it here and there but no one has taken it. The students respect the environment, and the work that the other students have done.”

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