Capitol Riot Becomes Teaching Moment at LCHS

Jim Cartnal had a Zoom meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6. The La Cañada High School principal looked forward to talking to a group of students supporting the Challenge Success initiative, which promotes a balanced, academically fulfilling life for kids.
His eagerness quickly turned to concern as he was notified by friends and family of what was happening more than 2,600 miles away. A violent mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol to disrupt the counting of electoral votes.
“Should we meet or just go home and focus on our families?” Cartnal thought. He ultimately decided to shorten the meeting and allow the students to be with their families.
He reflected on the alarming riot and sent an email to families the following day, advising parents that they limit their children’s exposure to media and have a conversation with them about the events that transpired.
Cartnal also held a Zoom meeting with teachers and administrators last Thursday and encouraged them to slightly alter their lesson plans and create an open virtual space for students to process and reflect on what happened the previous day.
“It is a good thing when you can make that happen in the context of a classroom, guided by an expert who can handle these questions, like our teachers,” he said.
LCHS students logged onto class wanting to talk about news, and teachers and administrators were ready to answer their questions as objectively as possible.
“My advocacy was for trying to do our very best to create a baseline factual understanding of what transpired, not in the prism lens of so much that divides right now,” Cartnal said. “We just want them to get the facts.”
Cartnal truly believes that LCHS students will become the leaders of tomorrow and wanted to promote discussions from all sides so they understand why it happened and the consequences of such an event and “explore right and wrong and fairness and equity in society.”
“We wanted to challenge kids with questions around the ethical meaning of events of this kind,” he said.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette sent an email to La Cañada Unified School District families late last week addressing the siege of the U.S. Capitol, a historic event that left her “shocked, anxious, heartbroken and dismayed.”
She reiterated Cartnal’s message of seeking truth and understanding to “overcome our nation’s current polarization.”
“There was a dedicated effort to focus on the tenets of the democratic process, with the wider view that at the heart of any healthy democracy is a well-educated and informed citizenry,” Sinnette wrote in her message. “Engaging all of our students in lessons on civics, history and social justice, while we promote their capacity for well-being, self-care and empathy for others is a powerful response to Wednesday’s events.”
The storming of the Capitol is just another burden on students already dealing with distance learning during a pandemic, and Cartnal reminded them that counselors from the virtual wellness center are on call and ready to field any concerns or questions they may have.
“Everyone was on the ready to support the students,” he said. “I don’t know if we had a huge upswelling in outreach, but I heard from teachers and students myself. Questions can come up, such as if everything is going to be alright or what this means for the future. We’re wondering that, too.
“My view is that school is not supposed to be just memorization of facts and figures,” Carnal added. “Although there is an element of why that matters, but it’s really to be able to apply one’s learning and to use it to understand the world in which one lives.”

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