Rockingham County Public Schools Community Dialogue Initiative focusing on breaking down barriers

Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 9:49 AM EDT
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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Around a year ago, a group formed in Rockingham County aiming to be an inclusive space for issues across the county’s public schools to be discussed.

“The fact that we’ve been able to break down barriers, and you can’t really listen you can’t really get in a good discussions if there are barriers there,” Retired RCPS educator Joe Showker said.

After an advisory group consisting of current RCPS Superintendent Dr. Oskar Scheikl along with current and former school board members met to discuss the group, the Community Dialogue Initiative came to be.

The initiative would represent the diversity across the school division and uncover and discuss issues impacting students and families like social media, confusion over policies, and consistency among the schools.

“This notion that how can Rockingham County Schools best create an environment in which all students feel safe and feel that they belong,” Catherine Barnes, a facilitator for the Community Dialogue Initiative said.

The ‘Core Dialogue Group’ expanded from an initial seven members to now 23, including former teachers, parents, and administrators.

One group member, Dr. Donica Hadley, an assistant professor of Education at James Madison University, says she has three children currently attending RCPS, and was excited to be asked to be a part of the initiative and bring her educational experience.

“Coming together personally and having face-to-face conversations and dialogue and open dialogue and it’s really healthy to discuss issues and truly practicing the art of listening and hearing people’s stories,” Dr. Hadley said.

Since March, the group has had five sessions, and so far both Showker and Hadley say they have not only learned from each other but others in the group, about the power of ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.’

“I began to see things from her perspective and her background, and she began to see things from my perspective which is a Valley resident and growing up with conservative values if you will but it was truly refreshing and we want to share that we want to expand that to bring in more people in the dialogue,” Showker said.

The next step for the initiative is to expand far beyond the group’s 23 members.

“In the spring opening it up to an open public community dialogue so that anyone in Rockingham County with a connection with the schools, who would like to have their voice heard but also to listen to others will be able to have a chance to share their views,” Barnes said.

The group has posted a cohesive report of those five sessions which anyone can view here on the RCPS website.