Parkin creates a sense of belonging and connection at BHS
Landen Parkin helps students find their place and be themselves through literature and celebration.
Finding a sense of community is essential for everyone. Being able to express yourself and be a part of something bigger than yourself while feeling truly connected, seen and celebrated is something we all strive for. Luckily for Burnsville High School (BHS) teacher Landen Parkin and his students, these important concepts are a big part of daily life.
In his second year at BHS, Parkin continues to find ways to get involved with the school community to celebrate different perspectives, cultures and people. Having attended film school before switching to becoming an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher, Parkin currently teaches ninth grade English, acting, and film studies classes at BHS. He is also the advisor for the Asian Student Association and a part of the Student Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Council (DIBC).
“When I was looking for schools to teach in, I would stalk their social media and website to get an idea of the culture there,” said Parkin. “Burnsville immediately stood out to me because it was so practically student-centered and offered a ton of amazing programs and ways for students to connect with each other.”
In the middle of his first year at BHS, Parkin was offered the opportunity to be an advisor for the Asian Student Association (ASA), which he was extremely excited to take on. He immediately got to work listening to the club leader’s plans and priorities and used his passion and organizational skills to help to put their ideas into practice. Goals included putting on a culture show that featured dances, music, fashion and more for a full celebration of Asian culture.
Another recent event organized by the ASA was a Diwali celebration. Students came up with all aspects of the show, with Parkin advising and guiding the planning. It was a wonderful celebration complete with traditional food prepared by some very passionate grandmas, ways to connect with culture, and some amazing dances performed by students like Shahnaz Gutierrez.
“I choreographed a four-minute dance and we had many people come and learn what Diwali was all about and try some west Indian foods,” said Shahnaz. “ASA is important to me because the environment is very welcoming and everyone is very kind. It gives you chances to really be yourself and meet new people who want to enjoy their time and learn more about Asian culture. Mr. Parkin and board members make the environment really welcoming and fun, and I think that just makes everything ten times better.”
The ASA meets every other week with around 40-50 members. Meetings can vary with a variety of food being shared, game nights, movie nights and culture showcases. The goal of the group is to allow students to be able to connect with different cultures and points of view and truly be themselves in a safe and comfortable setting.
“I love ASA so much because at the end of the day, the students bring me so much joy and I feel so blessed to be working with them,” said Parkin. “I don’t want students to feel like they are being accepted, I want them to feel like they are being celebrated for who they are. I call myself ‘Mama Parkin’ with them, because that's sometimes the role I play. I try to show up for them and support them as much as I can.”
For Parkin, it would not be enough to work for inclusion and celebration only as a part of the ASA or the DIBC. His quest to include multiple perspectives that have been ignored for far too long is also evident in his classroom. A published poet, Parkin recently taught a unit on poetry to his ninth grade students in which the authors represented a huge variety of backgrounds, identities and cultures not typically seen in high school literature classes.
“Let’s learn from someone who reflects our students and explores different perspectives by giving students books that they can relate to and learn from,” said Parkin. “I don’t want students to just say, ‘ok I read a book’ and move on. I want them to see what they are reading and take skills from it and make the school and the world a better place.”
As a way to truly personalize their books, students were recently tasked with helping to add some personality to a plain white hardcover book for an ELA class. Each student researched someone involved in the civil rights movement beyond those who are most frequently discussed, found a quote of theirs, and wrote it on the cover of the book. The goal is to have the textbooks become full of empowering quotes that students found impactful that will hopefully inspire future students.
“This school and district really puts the pedal to the metal when it comes to being student-centered, and whenever I go to someone with an idea, there is always a sense of figuring out how we can do it,” said Parkin. “For me it comes down to intentionality and practicality and I bring that into everything that I do. Any time a student leaves my room, I want to feel like they can do something impactful in their community and the world, whether it’s big or small.”