Left to Right: Lynn Vocational Technical Institute students Alexandra Rodriguez and Ambar Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of Jason McCuish
“Empathy is something that is needed now more than ever in this country,” says Noube Rateau, a radio and television broadcasting teacher at Lynn (Mass.) Vocational Technical Institute (LVTI). “I think all schools should participate in this training or something just like it.”
What training is Rateau talking about? It’s a virtual workshop called “Building Inclusivity,” and it was created and presented not by longtime academic experts in the field, but by LVTI SkillsUSA students under the supervision of English teacher and SkillsUSA advisor Jason McCuish. The goal of the workshop was to seize on a critical moment to address awareness related to race, bias, and privilege and how these elements contribute to diversity, equity and inclusion both in and outside the classroom. It included a PowerPoint, video interviews and comments from students and alumni, online worksheets for participant reflection and more.
The workshops were first presented within the chapter, but word-of-mouth quickly created a demand within the community and beyond. McCuish estimates that, during the last school year, the workshops were presented to nearly 1,000 people, encompassing SkillsUSA groups, school administrators and teachers, nonprofit organizations, churches, the local teacher’s union, racial justice groups and others across the U.S. “We even did it for a future group of guidance counselors who were in their master’s degree program, which was pretty amazing for the students,” McCuish says. “They were the teachers of the future teachers, which was kind of cool.”
The presentation didn’t just have a positive effect on the participants, however. It also affected the presenters themselves. “The value I gained from this project is immeasurable: acceptance, inclusivity, and empathy are all traits I was able to work on and learn more about,” says Brian Lopez, one of the seniors who helped lead the workshops. “I’m grateful to have been able to experience so many amazing moments throughout our project. The knowledge I gained has helped me develop not only as an individual, but also as a leader in my community.”
The workshop was so well-received that it helped the chapter earn a designation as a gold-level “Chapter of Distinction,” an honor that’s part of SkillsUSA’s Chapter Excellence Program. As a result, the LVTI chapter was later named one of SkillsUSA’s top 24 “Models of Excellence” programs for 2021.
The award was welcome confirmation of the workshop’s quality, but the true awards were gained by the participants … including the creators themselves. “I gained so many values from our project,” said Nyssa Lewis, another workshop leader. “I learned so much more about myself and my peers, and we helped to really drive home the SkillsUSA Framework Essential Element of Multicultural Sensitivity and Awareness. Each time we facilitated the workshop, I got to hear a lot of stories about what people have been through and shared in people’s life experiences. All of the different perspectives inspired me to work harder to share the workshop with more people, but also it encouraged me to be a better person.”
Click the video to learn more about SkillsUSA’s Chapter Excellence Program: