African-American culture was given the spotlight during Pioneer Ridge Middle School’s celebration of diversity on Thursday, March 21.
The school’s gym was filled with electrifying energy, as students cheered and clapped along to performances by the Chaska High School Hip Hop Team and Twin Cities Breakers, a Minneapolis based break dance group. The lineup also included several other student acts as part of Pioneer Ridge’s third annual “United We Thrive” event.
“I think it’s always something they look forward to watching,” said Nayely Becerra, intercultural specialist at District 112, who organized the event. “I think it reinforces that we’re all part of this community; that every single one of us belong at Pioneer Ridge.”
The afternoon started with a flag march and with some students welcoming others in their native languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese and Vietnamese. The band played jazz songs, paying homage to African-American musicians.
The day wrapped up with a game of basketball between students.
“We had a couple of students from Chaska High School ask us if they could come to our school and talk about culture,” Becerra said. When she found out the students were part of the high school’s Hip Hop Team, Becerra suggested they perform during “United We Thrive.”
“United We Thrive” gives diverse students a chance to show off where they are from, said Principal Dana Miller. She noted the students also learned about African-American culture during advisor time.
The event celebrates different heritages every year, and in the past highlighted Latino and American Indian cultures, Becerra said. Chaska Middle School West has been putting on similar cultural events for students for the last few years.
Chaska Middle School East is the only middle school that doesn’t have such events, because there isn’t a school gym big enough to accommodate the student body, Becerra said.
“It helps kids understand that we all come from different places and to celebrate that. We try to infuse appreciation for being united and for diversity throughout the year,” Miller said. “As our diversity has grown we want to make sure we’re intentional about honoring and celebrating that.”
Equity training continues for staff at Pioneer Ridge, she added
The Equity Committee was formed two years ago and existed previous to that as the “Intercultural Harmony Committee,” Becerra said. The committee is comprised of adults and last year they read “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.”
Staff also had innocent classroom training, Miller said. The idea behind the training is to honor the innocence in students.
“We’re making sure we’re looking for the good,” Miller said.
At the district level, Eastern Carver County administrators are working on completing it’s equity vision framework and action plan.
Equity, as defined by Merriam-Webster, means “justice according to natural law or right,” specifically “freedom from bias or favoritism.”
The district will be hosting a community meeting to gather input at 6:30-8 p.m. April 16 at Clover Ridge Elementary School. It is the second step in the district’s “equity vision, framework and action plan development” timeline, according to a presentation by Assistant Superintendent Amy LaDue at the March 18 board meeting.
The draft will be shared with stakeholders in late April. By May, district officials hope to have an action plan developed and have it reviewed by a district leadership team and an equity advisory team in June.
Priorities identified in the plan will guide the district’s goals and action plans for the 2019-20 school year, according to LaDue.
LaDue also said the district is working on finding a new equity coordinator. The district’s previous coordinator, Michelle Milstein, left the role in late February after starting with the district in September.
The district will also go through an equity audit, according to LaDue. Board member Lisa Anderson said she’d like the board to be part of equity training that results from the audit.
“The racially charged incidents that have recently surfaced in some of our schools has prompted me to reiterate what Eastern Carver County Schools stands for. We are a caring, compassionate school community that embraces diversity and inclusivity. We will not be defined or labeled by unacceptable incidents,” said Superintendent Clint Christopher during the meeting. “As a district, we still have lots of work to do in our journey to be more equitable and inclusive. This work is challenging, and many difficult conversations will happen in the future. We are committed to this work.”
Equity and tolerance have come to the front of district conversation after a Chaska High School student said some of her posters commemorating Black History Month were not allowed to be shown, and an African-American student said a racial slur was written on his gym shirt at Chaska Middle School East.
Concerns the posters were censored were presented to the Eastern Carver County School Board by residents. Among the concerned residents were Donzel and Tracy Leggett. Tracy Leggett asked the district to consider hiring more people of color on as teachers. Donzel Leggett, who recently ran as candidate for Minnesota Legislature District 47B, applauded the efforts of students who made the Black History Month posters.
Chaska High School student Faith Blackstone displayed the posters at the Chaska Event Center as part of an event called “Black History 365 Uncensored.”
“Those kids put together an event that is better than events I’ve seen that has been put on by our schools,” Donzel Leggett said of the event, adding he believed it was a “missed opportunity” that administrators and school board members did not attend.
“There are other things that are coming up and I hope you don’t miss them,” Donzel Leggett said. He said he hopes the district hires a diverse candidate for the equity coordinator position.
He also asked there be more focus on equity issues during school board meetings.
“I’d like to see here’s the action we planned, here’s what we did, here’s the variance and here’s what we’re going to do to make sure that we take care and drive positive change in this district,” he said.
Athletic Park, affectionately known as “Athletic” to generations of Chaskans, is under water.
In order to prevent major damage from flood waters rushing into the baseball park over the top of the levee, city crews preemptively flooded the park, shortly after noon Saturday.
Public Works Superintendent Brian Jung, who nursed the Athletic Park field and facilities back to health following a devastating flood in 2014, opened the flood gate.
By Monday morning, the water level was higher than the levee on the north side of the park, adjacent to the West Chaska Creek canal.
The baseball field, built in 1950, is home to the Chaska Cubs, a Minnesota amateur league baseball team, and the Chaska High School Hawks baseball team.
The baseball field is protected by an auxiliary levee, outside of the city’s main U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-certified levee, which protects downtown Chaska. That levee remains unaffected.
“The berm for Athletic Park was built for regular or typical flooding seasonal events and this year is kind of a non-typical year for that,” said Chaska Communications Manager Kevin Wright, on Saturday morning. “Our actual city levee is built higher and built to sustain greater levels. Everyone downtown is safe and protected by our U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levee,” Wright said.
As of Monday afternoon, the flood was the ninth highest on record, at 32.11 feet, measured by the National Weather Service at the Jordan gauge.
“Breaching the top would result in a much faster rate of water movement causing significant currents that would erode the berm and risk structural damage to facilities,” stated Assistant City Administrator Nate Kabat, of Athletic Park, in a Saturday morning memo sent to local baseball officials.
It could also pose a danger to city crews trying to work on top of the levee, Wright said. So one of the floodgates at the bottom of the berm was opened, allowing water to come in at a slower rate.
On Friday, Chaska Hawks baseball players began their spring break by helping move all of the items on the main floor of the grandstand into the grandstand, or storage lockers.
Athletic Park, located in the Minnesota River flood bottoms, was often inundated until 2015. That’s when the city built a $300,000 levee around the ballpark.
The berm has already saved baseball seasons in 2016 and 2018.
“It’s been a fantastic addition and done a world of wonders to keep that park playable for the three-plus years since its been in place,” Wright said.
According to the city, the Athletic Park berm is built of primarily clay with the top at an elevation of 719 feet above sea level. The levee protecting the city is more “structurally sound” and built to an elevation of 727.5 feet above sea level.
Damage to the field will depend on the length of flooding. The Hawks were scheduled to play the Chanhassen Storm on April 11 at the park. The Cub’s home opener at Athletic Park is scheduled for May 5.