In my mind, a school is one of the main hubs in every community – and everyone in our community should feel like we want them there and we want to hear their voices. That’s why, when we put on evening events, we remove as many barriers to entry as we can.
Our events are called IZIs, inspired by an organization called Marnita’s Table. IZI stands for Intentional Social Interaction. At an IZI, everything is done with intentionality. We offer free food that meets the needs of any dietary restrictions. We offer free childcare. We check all the local sports and community schedules to make sure we’re not booking our event on a night with a conflict. We invite not just families, but also community members: people who work at the library, owners and managers of local businesses, police officers – they’re all included and in the room that night. At our last event, we had 400 people come. We were really proud of that.
We encouraged all the guests to sit with people they didn’t know and pick up conversation cards we left at the tables, with questions ranging from ‘What’s your favorite restaurant?’ to “What’s one of the hardest things you’ve had to deal with in your life?” It got people to open up and learn about one another’s perspectives.
Later on, we had a big ‘mindstorm’ to discuss things we could do better as a school and ways our community could stand together and help one another. The coolest thing was looking around the room and knowing that all the attendees were there because they cared about the school’s students and the community in which they live.