Education, Latest News, Monongalia County

Teaching tolerance in Mon schools

Michael Ryan, by his nature, trends toward the optimistic and positive.

Which is why he wasn’t necessarily offended when people would come by the apartment to meet him.

This was in the Washington, D.C., area, where Ryan, a former guidance counselor who now coordinates student support programs for Monongalia County Schools, had gone to be a firefighter after high school.

Ryan had enrolled in a firefighter’s school in Fairfax, Va., and had an apartment with a classmate, who was a hometown guy.

“He’d say to his buddies, ‘You’ve gotta meet my Asian roommate with the southern accent,” Ryan remembered.

Well, technically, the way he talked wasn’t quite southern, and it wasn’t quite Yankee, either.

Ryan was raised in Greene County, Pa., just over the Monongalia County and West Virginia state line, so his speech was sort of a Mid-Atlantic mix.

Certain words sounded somewhat Appalachian, with most carrying bits of western Pennsylvania in their vowels and consonants.

He was adopted from South Korea when he was 3 months old and grew up in Greene County, where, as a teenager, he was crazy for WVU football and Texas Hold ‘Em Poker.

“Maybe I broke some stereotypes,” he said, of his Virginia days.

Or, maybe he was a social experiment of implicit bias going the other way – precisely because he didn’t act the part.

Judging (and being judged)

Implicit bias, at its worst, is a subconscious, kind of built-in bigotry most of us carry around.

And that’s even if we don’t realize it, or we don’t want to admit it, or we prefer to simply not care.

Implicit bias, psychologists and other professional watchers say, is factoring into the George Floyd trial and the current assaults on people of Asian lineage in American cities and suburbs.

And how a person looks, walks, talks, worships and loves is never more profound than in school, where, like it or not, it all percolates to the top of the social-Darwin shark tank.

That’s why Ryan has additional duties in Mon’s school district these days.

Teaching tolerance

He the chairman of the district’s department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which was formed earlier this school year.

The idea, he said, is to go beyond “theme” weeks and bulletin boards to train people for tolerance.

That means, he said, the offering of more professional workshops for educators and more titles chronicling culturally diverse thinkers, and movements on media center bookshelves.

That means, he said – through repetition, repetition, repetition – enacting the recalibration of mindsets, in order to get someone actually listening while another is talking, opposed to simply waiting to interject with a pre-thought response.

It also means, he said, assembling the skyscraper one girder at a time.

The committee is recruiting teachers and parents, Ryan said. Most of the structure is already put down, with the bulk of the policy work set to commence this summer, when people may have some more time.

Visit the district online at and go to the “Departments” pull-down menu to see the progress.

A key component is the reporting and notification feature, should a student feel threatened.

“That way we can start working it out,” said Ryan, who was West Virginia’s Guidance Counselor of the Year in 2018.

As he harkens back to his optimism, he said he’s looking forward to when all his meetings and interactions will again be face-to-face – once the district fully, and finally, emerges from the shadows of the pandemic.

“You always hear that ‘things will never be the same.’ Well, they shouldn’t be, because we’re learning things. We can take the good from it and use it.”

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