By JoEllen Kimball, Board of Education, ISD 423
While eating lunch with my 95- year old mother and some of her friends in Minneapolis I was asked if I thought Hutchinson had an immigration problem. I quickly responded , “Yes, I think we do. We do not have enough diversity in Hutchinson.”
I appreciate our city and after living, working, and raising our children here since 1985 we plan to stay for our retirement years. So why was my response to the immigration question so quick and possibly judgmental?
I believe we learn from people who are not like us and especially from people who have had very different experiences.
There is diversity in Hutchinson of many kinds. The schools of district 423, that I am most familiar with, have great teachers, staff, and students. There is strength in the diversity found in each of our schools. I found a quote from Ani DiFranco that says, “I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.”
I have a story of diversity and welcoming from Park Elementary. I remember a second grade student I taught at Park nine years ago. Amos (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable) came from Kenya and entered Park after the school year had started. He spoke no English and I was nervous about how to teach him. On his first day he knocked on the large boy’s bathroom door before going in. He ate very little of the school lunch and was cold on the playground. Helping him to learn English and learn about life in Hutchinson became an exciting class project; one that we took very seriously. We sat with him, walked with him, played with him, and taught him words and ideas. As happened every year, we had lots of math and reading lessons. We had parties, field trips and many thousands of opportunities for conversations. Amos quickly learned to understand the English words we were using and then to speak English. It is said that listening to and speaking a language comes before reading and writing it. We started each day of second grade with opening routines. We had show and tell. Late in the school year Amos started to raise his hand, go to the sharing chair, and begin with, “I have a story to tell.” His stories were delightful. One, I remember was about hearing lions roaring at night in the wild. Another story was about a relative who killed a deadly snake in the family garden with a hoe. Amos taught us about Kenya and the beauty of another language spoken in another part of the world. I know we taught him many things too before his family moved at the end of the school year. I will never forget Amos and what an honor it was to learn from him as he learned from us. In our second grade class we didn’t vote to become welcoming, we simply were.
If I ever get asked the question about immigration again I will respond differently. I will say that we have diversity, but we should welcome more.