Teachers are often said to get more from students by establishing an understanding and personal relationship with each individual student. This past year, some teachers used new techniques in that regard via the SEED Program.

The SEED Program - which stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity - is a national program in operation for more than 30 years that teaches and encourages educators to recognize and celebrate diversity in a student body.

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Three Pequot Lakes teachers - Sheri Levasseur, Karen Rubado and Deanne Trottier - attended week-long training conferences last summer and returned home to share their experiences and newfound knowledge.

"It's a 'train the trainer' kind of thing," Rubado said. "People attend a really intense week-long training, and then the expectation is for them to go back to their home school district and lead a cohort of a similar type of training. The idea is to promote inclusivity in our classrooms and broaden our perspective on diversity through exploring our own biases and stories with each other."

Levasseur spent time training in Seattle, while Trottier and Rubado went to San Anselmo, California. The three described sessions as very intense, sometimes lasting more than 12 hours, and it made them look inward and discover how they came to have the beliefs they have.

"I went there expecting a sort of 'tool box' to fill - different ideas and practices to come back and use with teaching - and when I got there, I realized that that is not what SEED is about," Levasseur said. "It is really about self-exploration and your current belief system and how those were instilled within you. This is really more 'heart work.' You have to figure this out within yourself before you go out and practice it."

During their training, the three were encouraged to look for "windows" and "doors" in their interactions - what they see in the stories of others, and how it reflects back onto themselves and their beliefs.

"Are we providing our students with both windows and mirrors?" Trottier asked. "That is a big piece for me. All the time, are we giving kids windows into other cultures, beliefs or people who live differently than we do?"

"We definitely have more diversity than you'd think," Rubado said. "We don't necessarily see it.

There are definitely socio-economic differences in our students, and there is privilege in having the financial means that some others don't have. There is of course race, there is sexual identity and gender identity and religion."

After attending the training, they strived to recognize diversity among their students and worked to make their students more aware of the diversity they may encounter in the future.

"We live in a global society," Levasseur said. "We are preparing our students to enter the world and not necessarily stay in Pequot. How are they going to feel when they leave - or even if they don't leave but they are on social media and are connected that way? We are bringing awareness to this locally."

Another task bestowed upon the trio was sharing their knowledge with interested teachers back home in monthly SEED meetings.

They were hoping to have at least 10 teachers join them in the first year, but 29 teachers - nearly one-fourth of district educators - were on board. Over the course of the school year, those teachers listened to each other's stories and found it easier to open up to their coworkers.

"I think it has made our staff stronger," teacher Joanna O'Neil said. "It is a lot of work to be a teacher. It is very rewarding, and we love our jobs but don't always get along with your co-workers, but you hear these stories and you become stronger together."

Fellow SEED teacher Sean Bengtson noted a higher awareness on his part of the various forms of diversity present in his classroom.

"When I am choosing what we are going to read or what offerings I am going to give the kids, I want to diversify it a little more now," Bengtson said. "It affects the personal relationships you have with the kids, more so than the curriculum."

As opposed to altering curriculum or techniques, the SEED Program has altered the perspective of the teachers involved, in essence affecting the interactions teachers have with students on a more personal level.

"This has been life-changing," Rubado said. "It has absolutely, fundamentally changed who I am as a person."

"Everybody has a story, and everyone's experiences that have led them to this point are different," Trottier said. "We need to be aware of that, look for those stories and listen to those stories. That is just going to change how we interact with people and accept them for who they are."

The expectation of the staff is that the SEED Program will remain within the district, and the teachers will continue to evolve and become increasingly aware.

"I think it's just the beginning," Levasseur said. "This is going to be a long-term thing."