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Mount Tahoma High School senior Krystal Mills considers it vital to attend a school where she feels safe and respected regardless of race, gender or culture.
Mills joined the school's African-American Club as soon as she entered high school. She helped transition the club from solely a step group that performed dances and cheers to an African-American club dedicated to community service and sharing black history.
"Sometimes you get used to seeing the same type of people, but it's like a breath of fresh air when you meet new people," Mills said. "It's important that people get out of their comfort zone and meet new people and learn about different cultures and races."
Educators call the environment a student learns in the "school climate." Schools with strong, safe climates express positivity, harmony between races and cultures, cleanliness and clear communication between students and staff members.
A positive school climate
can improve student attendance, achievement and even graduation rates, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The Tacoma Public Schools' School Board places priority on all schools creating positive climates. In particular, board members want more students to fill out the annual climate survey which asks students about how well their school does.
At Mount Tahoma, 80 percent of student respondents to the 2014-2015 survey agreed that their teachers support getting along with people of different cultures and ethnic groups.
Mills calls her school "really diverse" and "really good about getting along with everyone." She believes success comes from Associated Student Body (ASB) student leaders focusing on ensuring students are comfortable with each other and teachers' intolerance for offensive jokes about race, religion or culture.
The school also hosts an annual multicultural assembly where students from different cultures perform. Last year, two students from the African-American Club sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a poem written by the late James Weldon Johnson, an organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Other performances included Pacific Island dances such as the Haka and Cambodian Khmer dances.
Mills discovered her own learning moment at Mount Tahoma's multicultural assembly, when she realized how much diversity exists within Asian communities.
"Wherever you go, you're not going to just meet the same people who came from where you came from, so it's important that we get out of our comfort zones and meet new people and learn about different cultures and races," she said.
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