“No matter who you are talking to, be kind and have an open mind because you don’t know what they have gone through.”

These are words of advice from Southeast Polk Senior and Student Council Vice President, Patrick Tunks. Last November, Patrick, as well as several other members of the Southeast Polk Student Council and HUDDLE, our high school club that promotes diversity, participated in the third annual Youth Diversity & Inclusion Summit sponsored by Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) and Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.  

Patrick and the other Southeast Polk students that attended the summit were highlighted in a recent dsmmagazine.com article. The article described the one-day convention that drew 250 students from 15 Central Iowa high schools, including our SEP High School students, as an opportunity for students to share their voices, understand differences and build relationships. They explored such topics as acceptance and openness. Then students were encouraged to take what they’ve learned back to their schools, to start conversations and inspire action among their peers and administrators to promote inclusion and diversity.

During the breakout sessions at November’s event, our Southeast Polk students created a professional development seminar for teachers, covering such topics as perspective and making classrooms culturally inclusive. This impressive group of students then led a professional development seminar for all SEP High School teachers in February. The presentation included a video from Ram Cam, the high school’s video production class, that shared various perspectives of Southeast Polk High School students and staff. To see the first in a series of videos they created, follow this link: 

This is InclUSion video

Throughout the presentation, teachers were impressed with the students’ knowledge, honesty and presentation skills. SEP High School social studies teacher, Madelyn Kieler, when asked about the professional development session shared,

“These students helped me reflect on my classroom and how to make my classroom more inclusive for everyone. I would enjoy having more training and professional development on this as our growing district becomes more diverse.”

The group had additional seminars planned for our other secondary schools, Southeast Polk High School students enrolled in Des Moines Area Community College’s Teacher Academy program and presenting an overview to the Southeast Polk School Board but had to reschedule those events due to COVID-19. The students will be presenting to the School Board at the October 15 Board meeting. They will present the Professional Development to the Jr. High staff on October 16 and the Spring Creek staff on October 21.

Tunks has attended the Diversity Summit twice. Listening to how other teens are working toward fostering greater inclusivity has motivated him to do more in his daily life. He wants to better himself as a leader but also bring back to our school what he’s learned to help make SEP better. After the summit, Patrick shared, “It’s really about starting a conversation.” For example, in the hallways at his school, he now says hi to many more people, taking the initiative to reach out and “make them feel valued.”

Southeast Polk offers several clubs and organizations designed to promote diversity and inclusion and encourages students to participate. Patrick has acted on his desire to be inclusive for years. In Jr. High and High School, he’s been a part of our People PE organization and is currently president of Best Buddies. He’s also a member of MVP, Southeast Polk High School’s Mentors in Violence Prevention. Student leaders involved with MVP attempt to raise awareness, open a dialogue, and inspire leadership by empowering individuals with tools to lead and provide concrete options to effect change in their peer cultures, school, and community. These students take on the responsibility of facilitating weekly discussions with underclassmen on a wide variety of challenging issues like violence and injustice based on societal issues. 

Another group, GSA, offers students opportunities to work against bullying, harassment and discrimination in our student body. It is designed to provide support and continuing education for students and adults about issues affecting student safety and morale in and away from the school building. To learn more about all the clubs available to our high school students, go to the Activities tab our website at southeastpolk.org or following this link: Clubs List. 

We’re proud of all of our students that show leadership to improve our culture and help create a safe and inclusive learning environment. Keep up the excellent work!

 To read the dsmmagazine.com article, follow this link: https://dsmmagazine.com/2020/06/23/up-next-gen-z/