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Local students participate in diversity summit

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 15, 2015

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WARREN — Students from across Macomb County schools were invited to a diversity summit held at Macomb Community College Nov. 5 to help learn about other cultures and how to work together effectively.

Roseville Community Schools sent eight students from Roseville Middle School and another seven from Eastland Middle School; East Detroit High School also had a group of eight students attend the event.

Barb VanSweden, superintendent of Fitzgerald Public Schools, said she and a few others from the Macomb Intermediate School District, the college and the Macomb County Executive’s Office worked together to put the summit together during the past 19 months.

“It really started probably two years ago when two other districts here in Macomb County — and I believe it was Utica and Warren Consolidated — came together and did a summit with the Chaldean community,” VanSweden said. “So with that behind us, the idea was, ‘How can we do this on a larger scale?’”

She said they wanted to have something that involved all three major organizers, along with students from every public school district in Macomb County. The goal was to get kids to explore a “variety of topics,” from bullying to making voices heard.

Marnie Alliota, a counselor at Roseville Middle School, said the school sent along students from its peer mentors who work with an anti-bullying program. The summit had an “embracing diversity” panel and mentoring session, a “finding your voice” panel, a student-perspectives-on-bullying discussion, and talks with people who have immigrated to the U.S. from other countries, like Iraq and China.

“They spoke to the differences between their countries and our country, and how they felt coming to ours or going to a different one with the differences in culture,” Alliota said.

Kim Marchese, an East Detroit High School counselor, said the school sent students from grades nine through 12 to the summit. The participating students had a strong interest in change and vocal opinions about the school’s climate and culture.

East Detroit’s students heard from immigrants and how they overcame the challenges before them, she said. Marchese said that one of the speakers was a woman who graduated from Utica Community Schools after coming to the United States at the age of 17.

“There were a lot of struggles ahead of her,” Marchese said. 

“Her speech was amazing. The kids got a lot out of it about overcoming struggles and how you can accomplish things when you work at it,” Marchese said.

Marchese said the students enjoyed the mentoring program and are now excited about starting one at East Detroit. They brainstormed about other things they could bring up at the school.

Students also had to put together “action plans” on what they wanted to take back to their schools to implement, Alliota said. She said the main takeaway she had was just how diverse Macomb County is.

“I think it really gave all of the students who participated — especially our kids — it gave them more tools to work with in understanding each other and where they’re coming from and their differences, but still realizing at the core their values are the same,” she said. “They all want to be accepted, to make friends, to live their lives as easily and normally as possible with the acceptance of their peers.”

Marchese said the biggest thing her students took away was that they need to come up with plans to get their fellow teens to feel connected to their school.

“Some of the kids don’t feel connected to our school,” she said. “They don’t know people or don’t go to after-school events, so they wanted to change that so people do feel connected and do feel proud of East Detroit.”

VanSweden said she learned that it is important to include students in discussions on the problems and challenges facing Macomb County communities, from the north end of the county to the south end.

“Now our next challenge is, ‘What are we going to do next?’” VanSweden said. “How are we going to keep the discussion going, how are we going to continue growing as adults, and how are we to help youth grow into their roles as leaders in Macomb County?”

She added that the organizers are already discussing those questions and that they hope to turn this summit into a recurring event.

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