Our #WhyWAPS story: The reality of inclusivity

Our #WhyWAPS story: The reality of inclusivity
A family of four sits together at a baseball game

Hez Obermark, left, and her family, which includes children Ada and Charlie, and husband, Scott Morse.

Recently, we asked our families why they chose and continue to choose Winona Area Public Schools to inspire, engage and empower their children. Hez Obermark, a parent of a ninth-grader and a fifth-grader, wrote this in response.

Why did we choose Winona Area Public Schools? The idea of inclusivity.

My husband and I moved from the Twin Cities to Winona when our oldest daughter was in the third grade. At the time, we chose Winona Area Public Schools because we fundamentally believed in the power of the public school system. We believed in the idea that a school system that is inclusive of all kids — from all walks of life, including those that need additional support — was a powerful asset to a community. We believed in the idea of inclusivity and the power it has in creating a vibrant, strong community.

Why do we stay at Winona Area Public Schools? The reality of inclusivity.

I am altruistic and idealistic, but let me be clear, if I felt my kids were not thriving at WAPS, I would have moved them. You have to find the school that is right for your kid. If you are privileged enough to have choices around where your kid goes to school, you know first hand the burden of deciding where your kid attends school. It's a heavy decision at times. My eldest is now in ninth grade. My youngest is at the middle school. We have stayed at WAPS because we have seen the reality of what inclusivity has afforded our children.

My kids aren't scared of people who act and look differently than my family. They see differences as strengths and things to learn more about, not things to fear or shun. 

They learned that at Winona Area Public Schools.

A family dresses up in Alice in Wonderland costumes

Not every teacher is going to mesh perfectly with every kid, but I will say I have not met a WAPS teacher yet that doesn't truly care about their students. They have school pride, and they believe in what they are doing. They could teach other places, but they don't. They care, and they believe education should be inclusive. You feel that in their teaching. You feel them crafting creative solutions to ensure each kid thrives. You see them work long hours and support some really challenging kids. You see them making sure the not-so-challenging kids get the affirmation and intellectual stimulation they need to stay engaged in learning. 

The WAPS teachers are just plain amazing, and they work hard to better understand how to embrace and celebrate inclusivity. Are they all amazing at it? Nope, they aren't … but man, are they trying hard to do something that's really hard to do well (teaching inclusively, and I adore them for it.)

I overheard my daughters talking to each other recently. In an attempt to be funny, my youngest said something that was a little hurtful about a kid in her class. I heard my oldest say "Hey, wait, I know that kid. Doesn’t his brain think differently than ours?" 

I hear my youngest go, "Yeeeaaahhhh …"

My oldest: "So what he did may seem weird to you but probably felt right to him."

My youngest: "You're right, I take it back. Sorry I forgot." 

They went on to argue about something trivial, so I stopped listening, but that exchange stayed with me, and I got a little teary eyed.

Those kids didn’t make that up on their own. That type of understanding and empathy is taught and learned. I am so proud that my kids get to learn things like empathy, understanding and forgiveness from the educators at Winona Area Public Schools. 

That is the reality of inclusivity at work. 

A family of four and a dog pose for a picture on their stairs

My kids go to school with resilient, funny, vibrant families. Some of those families are very different from ours, some of them are very similar. Do I agree with all the parenting styles used by all my fellow parents? Nope, I sure don't! But I do adore the diversity and opportunity to learn that I get from talking with my fellow WAPS parents. 

I work in a leadership role in the health-care industry. Health care, like education, has major opportunities for improvement. I have seen first hand, outside of attendance and general work ethic, the ability to work with other people (especially those who think about the world differently than yourself) is one of the biggest differentiators between good employees and great employees. It isn't a fancy education, or the ability to use big words. It is the ability to listen, remain open minded, and see a difference of opinion as a chance to learn and grow. It is employees that excelled in those areas that consistently galvanize people around great ideas. They make great things happen and find joy in hard work worth doing. 

My kids are learning those skills because of the inclusivity WAPS takes pride in, not despite of it.

My family growing up was not well off. We had no choice about where we went to school, and my school was known for being "rough" or, as some people would say, "especially challenged.” I'm proud to say that my three siblings and I all now make good money doing work we love. I was visiting my mom, who is a staunch believer in the power of the public school system, a few weekends ago. She shares that one of her friends recently said "It's amazing your kids have been so successful despite going to public schools."

My mom's response: "That’s funny. I'm confident that they are successful because they went to public schools. The most important lessons aren't always taught in fancy books."

I have to agree. I continue to choose WAPS because I am confident everything it teaches my kids is setting them up for bright, successful futures.

Inclusivity: Why we chose Winona Area Public Schools and why we continue to choose to stay at Winona Area Public Schools.

What is your #WhyWAPS story? Share it with us here in honor of National Public Schools Week, which will be celebrated Feb. 26-March 1 across the country. It doesn't need to be as long as this submission. It could be as short as one word. Your story matters!