Department of Justice program well received

STUDENTS discussed details with others following a Department of Justice workshop geared at improving community relations.

A group of about 30 Dolores middle and high school students let their guards down on Wednesday and got down to answering some very tough questions.

What makes them feel safe and welcome?

The groups of students were mixed and from different backgrounds and were taking part in the a program dubbed SPIRIT (Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together). The program was facilitated by C. Kit Chalberg, an employee with the U.S. Department of Justice, a community relations service.

Chalberg was a step by the Dolores School District to ease tensions at the schools following an alleged hate crime that occurred in late November involving the harassment of a teacher and the ban of the display of Confederate Flag.

"They are discussing what it means to them to feel safe at school," said Principal Brandon Thurston, as students sat in groups and discussed issues at the Ponderosa Restaurant.

"This whole process is up to them," Thurston said.

What came out of the discussion was interesting.

Some students felt the close knit group of Dolores had some disadvantages.

"It is hard for people to feel welcome if they didn't grow up here," one girl said.

"There is a lot of judging at the school," another said.

Others felt that having colored skin made them stand out.

"Color changes everything," she said.

She explained that the lake of diversity makes things difficult.

Middle school students felt that the upper classmen were unfairly hard on the sixth graders and freshmen in high school said they felt the same way.

Others felt that if you have a different opinion, it should be respected.

"People don't recognize others' opinions as valued, but as something to hate others for," one student said.

Others said that we have to be careful even when joking around with friends.

"Others may hear you and take offense," one student said.

Students also said it is difficult to have new administration.

Others felt that athletes are held at a higher level at the school.

But others said they felt very welcome in Dolores as a new student and thought that encouraging and offering a wide variety of extra curricular activities helps students feel welcome.

"Everybody has beliefs," one student said. "Nobody's purpose should be to cause conflict."

Another added, "We don't all come from the same home life."