Bahai News - Helping Out for Sat., May 27, 2000
Helping Out for Sat., May 27, 2000
Karen Gail Jostad / Star Tribune
Lyn Mitchell has an adoring family. Also a school full of kids, teachers
and administrators who think she's tops.
Earlier this month, the 42-year-old mother of four from Minneapolis
was honored with the B. J. Reed Award for outstanding volunteerism
in the Minneapolis Public Schools. Reed, a Minneapolis educator who died
in 1996, founded the first volunteer program in the Minneapolis Public
Schools in 1965. The award recognizes volunteers whose skills and
expertise benefit students and schools in the community.
A volunteer at Windom Open School for 10 years, Mitchell was cited
for being a "guiding force in building a stronger educational community
in the schools," for her ability "to inspire and lead others" and for
her "unique ability to bring together students, teachers, parents and
administrators to advocate for change relating to children's growth
"There's incredible meaning for me in thinking about building
community in Minneapolis as it changes," Mitchell said. "I love the
challenge of devising ways of getting kids to think about their world
and be in the world," she said, "and challenging them to be
active, kind participants in the world."
Robyn Cousin, coordinator of volunteer services for the Minneapolis
Public Schools, said, "Lyn is one of those people who can balance
raising four children with really being able to give of her energies to
the community at large and understand the importance of building ties
with the diversity that exists within her community and school."
"She's been tremendously active -- a real driving force for
getting things done here at Windom School," said Carol Reed, volunteer
coordinator for the school, which has about 500 students, 36
percent of whom are English-language learners.
But one of her most significant contributions was founding, with
Terese Pritschet and teacher Patricia Hauser, the Love
Makes a Family Anti-Bias Education Project, which teaches children to
accept diversity in their schools, Reed said.
Love Makes a Family was developed after an incident at the school
several years ago when a second-grader, the daughter of lesbian parents,
received a letter stating, "I hate you, girl lover."
The parents took the incident seriously and got support from other
parents, the administration and teachers to address the issue.
"It created a culmination of energies for parents who had chosen
Windom because they wanted their kids to have a diverse school
experience," said Pritschet, 44, of Minneapolis, whose children
attend Windom School.
The three women developed a curriculum of children's literature
for a book project about different types of family experiences.
Categories include: multiracial families, adoptive and foster families,
parents who have divorced, gay and lesbian family members, families
dealing with various disabilities and stories about families
experiencing disruption because of immigration, homelessness, aging or
Volunteers, usually parents, read a story about one of the topics to
the children and lead discussions and help with journal writing.The
children also are encouraged to depict what they've learned through
"Teachers have told us that kids that don't usually speak in the
classroom are speaking up and sharing about their lives," Mitchell said.
"I guess they're feeling validated."
A manual is being prepared for use by other schools, synagogues and
churches and discussions have begun to expand the program to the middle
"We also dream of having projects available to teachers who want to
explore these issues . . . to help them find ways to
integrate them fluidly or naturally into their existing curriculum,"
"Instead of just dealing with the incident alone, we're saying
that all children, from a very young age, need to be educated and really
start thinking about what differences among people really mean," said
Rose Chu, 39, of St. Paul, a middle school math teacher at Windom and a
board member of Love Makes a Family.
"A lot of stereotypes come from the fact that kids learn it from
adults and other sources," Chu said. "If we don't take charge in the
school and a proactive role in educating children about the differences,
then the children will be indirectly educated, by the media, for
example, or other outside forces," she said.
'Magnetism' at work
Whatever Mitchell has her hand in -- volunteering in the classroom,
organizing a fund-raiser, or chaperoning a student event -- she does it
with a "magnetism" that makes others want to be involved, Pritschet
said. "And, she has a magic with the kids," Pritschet added.
In April, Mitchell organized "Piece of the Puzzle: Celebration of
Diversity Night." More than 450 parents and children attended the ethnic
potluck and program that included Latino music, performances by the
Bahai Dancers and Teatro de Pueblo, as well as a student art exhibition.
"We're so fortunate to have a parent like her," Chu said.
"She's very supportive and understanding of the work the teachers
do. She understands the challenges we face and truly wants to support
us," Chu added. "The kids know who she is and they know they can count
Mitchell also is active in church youth groups and cross-cultural
exchange programs and has delivered medical supplies to Nicaragua
through Project Minnesota Leõn.
"I see her as modeling very successfully the values that she's
working to integrate into the classroom community," said Pritschet.
"They have to do with respect across differences and acknowledging
everyone's place at the table."
"We're all sharing our soul through our volunteer work -- and
building and fortifying our souls," said Mitchell. "It's fun to see
how it works and you get a lot of energy back, too."
For more information about the Love Makes a Family Anti-Bias
Education Project, call 612-824-8090.
©Copyright 2000, Star Tribune
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