Greater Than One District Inclusion Summit builds bridges among metro school districts

Students from six Nebraska metro school districts built bridges of compassion, understanding and friendship with each other at a major educational event in Lincoln.
Lincoln Public Schools hosted its second-annual “Greater Than One District” Inclusion Summit at the Don Clifton Professional Learning Center this spring. Elementary, middle and high school students from LPS, Omaha Public Schools, Westside Community Schools, Bellevue Public Schools, Elkhorn Public Schools and Papillion-La Vista Community Schools came together for the event. They participated in activities that helped them learn about subjects such as belonging, inclusion and engagement.
Southeast High School senior Catrice and Omaha North junior Michael said they were grateful to join the 114-person group. They said the summit’s welcoming setup was helping them construct lifelong leadership skills.
“I’ve really enjoyed meeting all sorts of new people,” Michael said. “It’s really nice that rather than us going and sitting at a table with all of the same people that we normally do, we’re able to sit with a big variety of people throughout the metro area.”
“Walking into a room and being able to trust someone before you know what’s happening is a big skill to have,” Catrice said. “Even though it might be hard to trust someone you’ve only known for five minutes, it kind of already makes the relationship. Putting yourself out there and making yourself vulnerable will only make you a stronger person.”
Peter Ferguson and Andrea Haynes beamed with pride as they watched a large conference room become a beehive of activity. Ferguson is coordinator of culture, inclusion and scholar development at LPS and Haynes is assistant superintendent of Westside's human resources and district operations. Both said it was important for students to have conversations that would provide permanent feelings of empowerment and affirmation.
“For me, it’s so special because we’re not just building a better school district for particular students or a particular district, we’re building a better educational experience for all students in the state of Nebraska,” Haynes said. “Where all students feel a sense of belonging, a sense of feeling connected to their school, a sense of getting to know students from other districts. It’s about motivating and inspiring one another to do great things in life and achieve at high levels.”
“When I’m looking at empowerment, I want it to be something that lasts long after this,” Ferguson said. “I want this to serve as a catalyst for them to continue or start the work that they’ve always wanted to.”
LPS and Westside teamed up last year for the inaugural equity summit. Students enjoyed the event so much that they decided to deliver a presentation about their experiences at a Missouri Valley human resources convention. Leaders from other districts were impressed by what they heard from the group, and that sparked the idea of having a larger event with more schools.
Ferguson, Haynes and LPS Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Vann Price spearheaded months-long planning for the summit. They invited leaders from LPS, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and community organizations to guide conversations and breakout sessions throughout the day.
Amanda Morales, an associate professor of critical multicultural and multilingual education at UNL, and Ndrao Faye, a second-year doctoral student from Senegal, led one of the morning’s activities. Students first met someone they didn’t know and had icebreaker conversations with them. They then formed larger groups to create and perform skits about important ideas such as diversity and acceptance. Everyone shared their reflections with each other after the performances.
“It’s about creating a brave space for us to work together,” Morales said.
Ferguson said organizers wanted to ensure students could speak freely about all types of subjects at the summit. They knew this would help them build self-confidence and develop both trust and respect for people of various backgrounds and opinions.
“All of this is for naught if they’re not having the ability to engage,” Ferguson said. “To be not just in a safe space but in a give-grace space where they truly can be their authentic self and engage in that capacity.”
Michael and Catrice both felt that goal had been achieved.
“The fact that we’re able to discuss with our peers about this topic, and not necessarily feel judged, to be able to have that conversation where we can say, ‘Here’s where I disagree, here’s where I agree,’” Michael said. “It’s really important that we are building that kind of community.”
“Last year when we had Westside join us, it was like, ‘Wow, this is awesome. I’m so glad we can share with another school,’” Catrice said. “But now that there’s five other school districts here, it’s really cool to see not only what they have to bring, but also the experiences that they’ve had. I’ve been able to relate to a lot of them.”
Ferguson said LPS Equity Cadre alum Kaylee Denker provided motivation for the gathering last year. Denker said if positive change was going to happen, it had to come from many school districts banding together. Haynes said Denker’s vision had come true with what she had witnessed at the summit.
“Not only are we sharing unique perspectives and things that make us different, we’re also getting down to what it is about us that’s alike, that we’re all connected in a way,” Haynes said. “Learn about others, learn about ourselves and learn how to create better belonging for everyone.”

To learn more about the school district’s equity goals, check out the LPS All Means All action plan at
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Published: April 25, 2024, Updated: April 25, 2024

Students smile during a community-building activity at the Greater Than One District Inclusion Summit. More than 100 students from six school districts in eastern Nebraska gathered in Lincoln for the summit. They explored topics such as inclusion, belonging and community throughout the morning and afternoon.