Reinforcing the district's commitment to unity, equality and inclusion, the Olentangy Local School District will hold its sixth annual One Community Conference early next month.

The event, which will feature speakers and panel discussions on a range of topics related to this year's theme, "Inspiring a Community of Changemakers," will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Feb. 8 at Olentangy Orange High School, 2840 E. Orange Road.

The community is invited to the free event, which will include age-appropriate programming for school-age children through adults. Free care for children ages 3-5 will be provided.

As in the past, the day will focus on respecting diversity and building community. But this year's conference will address more specifically the idea of taking action.

"We've paid a lot of attention to respecting the needs of the community and the world" at the previous five One Community conferences, said Jackie Merkle, the district's supervisor of equity and inclusion.

"We wanted to take the next step and use that information to make change in our lives and in the community."

The morning keynote speaker is Matthew R. Kay, author of "Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom."

It's important, Merkle said, that as the district grows and becomes more diverse, "every single person is able to see themselves as part of the conversation."

The afternoon sessions will include presentations by Olentangy students on topics including racial and cultural identity, immigrant and refugee communities, religious diversity, bullying and mental health.

"When we include that student perspective -- put students in front of people and empower them to share their stories -- that's when the conference is its most effective, when other students and our staff and families and community are most impacted," said Heather Cole, the district's diversity coordinator.

"Our students are hungry for the opportunity to have a voice, and it only makes sense to utilize their stories to showcase how amazing they are," Merkle said.

Merkle said the conference supports the district's mission to facilitate maximum learning for all students and underscores Superintendent Mark Raiff's commitment to removing any barriers to learning for Olentangy students.

"We take that responsibility very seriously," Merkle said.

The conference will include a resource fair, with local organizations offering information on how to become active and take advantage of available services, Cole said.

"It brings together so many different groups of people around important topics," Cole said. "We hope to learn and to build relationships."

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