At their annual outreach event, Olentangy Local School District leaders are hoping to convey a districtwide message of inclusion and protection.

Olentangy's fifth annual One Community event is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at Olentangy Berlin High School, 3140 Berlin Station Road.

The event is expected to be the largest yet and will serve to promote unity and diversity in the district.

This year's event features more than 40 workshops that are meant to help both parents and students.

Topics of those workshops include building empathetic communities, suicide prevention for students, risks and resilience of LGBTQ+ youth, understanding "overexcitabilities" in gifted students, and diversity in literature.

Jackie Powers Merkle, the district's supervisor of equity and inclusion, said the themes explored by the many workshops highlight the district's emphasis on health and diversity, which begins with Superintendent Mark Raiff.

"When Superintendent Raiff came on board, he really made it clear that nonacademic barriers -- and student well-being -- was really important," she said. "Mark has been a huge supporter, as has the board of education, of this work. I feel extremely grateful to work in environment with people who are willing to support us, sometimes in very challenging situations as well."

Raiff said the district's evolving emphasis on eliminating those "nonacademic barriers" is key, and said the conference is meant to "cultivate student success and foster high-quality learning."

"Our mission as a district is to facilitate maximum learning for every student, but we know there are a lot of nonacademic barriers that inhibit our ability to achieve that mission," he said.

"Promoting an environment of inclusive excellence for our school community, as well as the community as a whole, is an effective way to continuously make progress toward meeting the needs of all students," he said. "We recognize that our success is integrally linked to how well we value, engage and affirm the rich diversity of our entire community."

Merkle said having Raiff and other district leaders "stand up for what they believe in" is extremely important to implementation throughout the district.

"In districts that are doing this work very well and doing this work successfully, there has to be an alignment -- whether it's top down or bottom up," she said. "It's everything from what the district says and prioritizes and supports to what buildings are able to implement and carry out."

While Merkle works from the district level, there are diversity liaisons in place in each Olentangy school that help implement the districtwide message on a smaller scale. Merkle said that cooperation is a necessary component.

"I think if it was just something at the district level, it's really hard to get buy-in," she said, "so I think it has to be that conversation at both levels."

As One Community approaches, Merkle sees it as the biggest chance yet to share that messaging with parents and others in the district, and hopes the response matches the feedback district leaders have gathered from recent smaller events.

"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," she said. "Within any community, you're definitely going to have people who are across the spectrum from very supportive or potentially activists to people who are a little more timid or unsure," she said. "So I think we see it across the gamut, but ... there's a really positive energy that comes out of attending these events."

For more information and to register in advance, visit olentangy.k12.oh.us or register at the door on the day of the conference.

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