Hillside Elementary PTA wins national diversity award

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published September 4, 2020

 Hillside Elementary School Principal Robert Kauffman stands with members of the Hillside community at an international night during the 2019-2020 school year.

Hillside Elementary School Principal Robert Kauffman stands with members of the Hillside community at an international night during the 2019-2020 school year.

Photo provided by Courtney Chang

 A poster board showcasing facts, activities and traditions native to Zambia, and celebrating the country’s culture, sits on display at an international night during the 2019-2020 school year.

A poster board showcasing facts, activities and traditions native to Zambia, and celebrating the country’s culture, sits on display at an international night during the 2019-2020 school year.

Photo provided by Courtney Chang

 Staff, parents and students sit together, playing various games with origins from different countries as a part of Hillside Elementary School PTA’s cultural game night.

Staff, parents and students sit together, playing various games with origins from different countries as a part of Hillside Elementary School PTA’s cultural game night.

Photo provided by Triman Jagdev

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FARMINGTON HILLS — The Hillside Elementary School community and PTA board have reason to celebrate this year after being awarded the National PTA’s 2020 Jan Harp Domene Diversity and Inclusion Award.

“Hillside Elementary PTA clearly places the PTA mission of making every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children into the forefront, irrespective of race, condition, ethnicity, ability, gender or culture. … Ensuring that your diverse community feels welcome is reason to celebrate,” the award letter states.

The National PTA award comes with a $1,000 prize. PTA parent volunteer Triman Jagdev, who helped establish many of the cultural programs offered at Hillside and helped spearhead the award application efforts, said the prize money will be reinvested into the program they offer to enhance them further.

As PTA board members — including Jagdev, PTA Treasurer Courtney Chang and now former PTA President Kristen Aspinall — sat down with Hillside Principal Robert Kauffman to discuss how to increase family engagement at the elementary school, they began to look for ways to provide more inclusive programming in light of the more than 40 different languages spoken and cultures represented in the school community.

“It has always been the objective of the PTA to ensure we are attempting to include all families,” Chang said. “We understand that not everyone is going to want to have the same type of interaction or same program and that we need to find a multitude of different options that give our families choices in how they would like to interact with the school and community.”

Thus were born new programs, such as an international night; a cultural game night; the Fourth Wall program, a theater program targeted to allow artistic opportunities for students with special needs; and the Dream Kings program, a leadership program aimed at uplifting young African American men to help them find their passions, purpose and power.

Hillside’s PTA also funded the purchase of flags from all countries to be displayed at the school’s entrance; it integrated multiple languages into the PTA membership forms; and it hosted a special meeting with Black parents to discuss the achievement gap. All these programs were added alongside their pre-existing enrichment activities, such as Lego robotics, Math Pentathlon, Science Olympiad and more.

As a first-year member of the PTA program, Jagdev said she was impressed with how her family, her experiences and her suggestions were received by Kauffman and everyone else involved.

“It does validate the work that we had been doing, and it also shines a light on the programs that we’ve been providing to the Hillside community, because not everyone might know what’s available,” Chang said of receiving the award. “The real (message) is that all members of the community, their voices are heard and they are part of the Hillside community.”

Jagdev added that the recognition from the national level “also encourages us to keep going in that direction, so everyone in our school feels included and equal.”

Expanding some of Hillside’s programming, specifically the school’s Dream Kings program, have been discussed, though final details are still in the air, Jagdev said. The school’s Fourth Wall program was sent out to special education teachers at FPS’s other schools so students outside of Hillside could join in, as well.

“Not only were they invited to join us at Hillside, but the (program) information was shared so they could work to develop a similar-type program at their school,” Chang said. “The program itself gave an opportunity and a voice to all students, so they had the ability to display their talents in the form of theater.”

Sharing their programs doesn’t stop at the borders of the school district, either.

“The National PTA is talking about including our program in their diversity, equality and inclusion toolkit so that it can be adapted by anyone,” Jagdev said. “I think that is one of the biggest accomplishments I feel this award has given, is the opportunity for us to be leaders in that sense. … It’s a proud moment.”

For more information, visit farmington.k12.mi.us/hil.

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