Column: Sense of belonging a ticket everyone deserves

I was 13 and on an eighth-grade class trip to Winnipeg, Canada. This was the first trip I had ever taken out of the United States. Actually, this was the first trip I had taken out of my home state. I remember my social studies teacher telling us all the things we were going to see and learn. I also remember the ninth graders relaying how much they enjoyed “the trip” the year before.

gustafson b:wAt the time, it was unclear to me how I was able to go since I didn’t pay any money like the other kids. I didn’t have to bring snacks along for the four-hour bus ride, or worry about meals and the stay in the hotel – my teacher told me “no need to worry, it’s covered.” When I asked my parents about these things they also said, “no need to worry, it’s covered.” As an adult, it’s now clear the school staff had a shared purpose to remove the barriers that would have prevented me from experiencing what I still consider one of the best trips ever. Yes, we saw and learned a lot.

However, it seemed it was more about what I perceived as our shared purpose: a sense of belonging. And, I earned a ticket to participate.

Just recently, I reflected on this experience after taking part in an extraordinary event called We Day. On Oct. 8, 18,000 students from different parts of the country banded together in the Xcel Energy Center to celebrate their work taking on one local and one global action as part of the We Act program. Over 300 middle and high school students from our Anoka-Hennepin School District participated. These students could not buy a ticket; they had to earn a ticket by showing how they are making the world a better place. The entire event was centered on a shared purpose of energy, generosity and discipline toward helping others in need. Yes, these students saw a number of important people, including celebrities, and learned that regardless of who you are, you are able to help in both the smallest and largest ways. However, it seemed it was more about what I perceived as our shared purpose: a sense of belonging. And again, somehow I earned a ticket to participate.

One of the best ways to create new relationships and strengthen existing ones is to commit to a shared purpose. This shared purpose can reinforce your ties to the community and broaden your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, neighborhood resources and even sometimes fun and fulfilling activities that you are able carry with you for a lifetime. A sense of belonging is one ticket everyone deserves to earn and to know that they are covered.

Thank you for your continued support.

Jinger Gustafson is the associate superintendent of middle schools for the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

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