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Public schools accept religion as part of their community

By C. M. Bateman

Photo Editor

Up until I finished middle school, I had been constantly told, by both my school and Catholic parish community, that a public school system was one of the least welcoming places for someone of my Roman Catholic faith. The discussion of religion in public school was more regulated than what I was used to. 

During our high school application process, my private, Catholic, K-8 school encouraged all the students to apply to private high schools and rarely, if ever, focused on neighboring public schools or charter schools.

However, I chose to attend a public charter school for high school.  It hit me during graduation that I was apprehensive about joining a completely different setting for the next four years of my academic life.

Upon attending my first days at Summit Public Schools: Tahoma, I found that, not only was religion openly talked about among the other students, but faculty and staff encouraged students to embrace their self-identity, religion and all.

I didn’t feel like my religious identity was restricted while first attending Summit Tahoma. Today, I don’t feel like that at all. In fact, here I am writing an article about the very subject for the school’s news website.

Others agree with my opinion of Summit Tahoma as a congenial space for various beliefs. Tahoma sophomore Yasmin Saini is a believer of both Hinduism and Sikhism.

Student Saini
Yasmin Saini, Tahoma sophomore, opens up about her religious beliefs.

Saini described Hinduism as the common religion in India, and there are many rituals which include holy fire sacrifices of flowers and grain to their gods and goddesses.

Sikhism is based of the teachings of gurus and teachers, and involves temple donations, Saini added.

She said Tahoma provides a welcoming space for someone of her multiple faiths.

“Tahoma is diverse, and it’s really easy to connect with someone because we’re so different,” she said. “Everyone believes in something, like moral values, and you find common things between those values that bring you together.”

Educator Ms. Thiele
Lissa Thiele teaches a course on the Holocaust for the Expeditions team.

Lissa Thiele, who teaches an in-depth study of the Holocaust for the Expeditions team, is a follower of a reform movement of Judaism, which is a religion based primarily on the writings of the Old Testament. The reform movement is a more inclusive branch of Judaism, permitting female rabbis and same-sex marriages, to name a few of the differences between reform Judaism and orthodox Judaism.

Ms. Thiele attributed her comfort at Tahoma to her students, saying, “My students are amazing. They are the ones who make me feel proud, and the ones that encourage me to speak about my identity.”

It is Ms. Thiele’s students who ask about her identity in regards to fully understanding the Holocaust. The Summit Tahoma community has “really honored” her Jewish identity, and made her “feel so welcomed in being able to be me.”

That is a key part in any school: learning to accept each other despite our differences in faith. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and there is only one God; however, I am able to get along peacefully with people like Saini, and I have the ability to learn and grow from people like Ms. Thiele.

Ms. Thiele and Anne Marie Yellin
Ms. Thiele introduces Holocaust survivor Anne Marie Yellin to the Holocaust Expeditions class at Tahoma.

Ms. Thiele’s Holocaust class recently welcomed a Holocaust survivor named Anne Marie Yellin, who escaped Germany and sought refuge at a Catholic convent in France. She told her captivating story to the class and left them with some wisdom to base their lives on:

Yellin said that the younger generation should be honorable and respectful. She added that she always tells students that the most important thing in dealing with the aftermath of genocide is never to forget but to forgive.

“I try to teach acceptance. No matter what religion, no matter what sexual preference, no matter what political ideas you have, accept your generation, accept each other because it can happen again. It can happen again.”

Featured Image (at the top of this post): The Holocaust Expeditions class participates in the global #WeRemember campaign to commemorate and honor the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

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