Promoting Acceptance: The Belonging Project

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Kayleen Kim

Special segment producer and senior Daisy Liao hooks up the camera to the stand for the shooting of the Belonging project in the green room. “Every single year, we can create a video like this where we get a bunch of many students into one video and ask them, ‘What does this emotion or what does the theme of this school year mean to you?’” Liao said.

The feeling of acceptance, support and security. Can you guess what this word is?

Belonging. 

The Belonging project began under the umbrella of the Portola News Network in early October and the original plan was to feature social studies teacher Virginia Nguyen relating to her sense of belonging. With the help of counselor Ryan Itchon and special segment producer and senior Daisy Liao, this interview blossomed into a schoolwide project focusing on the idea of belonging within the school community.

The project first arose as an idea for a segment on PNN called “The Spike,” in which Liao dives deeper into the lives of students. “The Spike” is inspired by the YouTube channel Jubilee, which gives a platform for all different kinds of opinions. 

It’s this belief that everyone should have equal opportunity, have equity and fairness and justice and feel like the promise of education is given to every student – no matter what ethnicity, sexual orientation, social class, cultural background. All of that should be something that every student has access to.”

— Virginia Nguyen

Liao was adamant about exploring the sense of belonging on the school campus with different students along with Nguyen, who was interested in helping to create a sense of belonging for all students on campus. With the support of Itchon, they came together to create the Belonging Project, which will continue as a year-long project as a series of interviews about feeling belonged at school in the form of videos.

“I just feel like Portola is made up of a diverse student body, and I wanted to show that on PNN,” Liao said. “I asked [Mr. Itchon] for help, and he was like, ‘You should talk to Ms. Nguyen because she is a social justice activist, and she’s very passionate about empowering student voices.’”

For Nguyen, the Belonging project was an opportunity to discuss the social and cultural issues that may prevent a student from feeling as though they belong. 

“Belonging is the core of anti-racism,” Nguyen said. “It’s this belief that everyone should have equal opportunity, have equity and fairness and justice and feel like the promise of education is given to every student – no matter what ethnicity, sexual orientation, social class, cultural background. All of that should be something that every student has access to.”

Within the topic of “belonging,” race is a subtopic that is mentioned frequently, as minorities make up 79.2% of Portola High’s community, according to US News. Their individual stories of fitting in with the Irvine community demonstrate a strong sense of belonging, according to Itchon.

“As I’ve written my letters of recommendation for my seniors, that’s something they mentioned: that they didn’t feel like they belonged,” Itchon said. “So I think that’s another thing hopefully down the line, we can just focus on. Like where did they come from? And what is their backstory? And how did they integrate into Portola? I feel like those types of stories can hopefully be relevant to other students who feel like they don’t belong.”

The first video of the project will be presented during advisement in two weeks and the team will continue to work on the project for the rest of the school year, producing videos in different formats. Nguyen, Itchon and Liao said they all hope that the project will instill a sense of security and support within Portola High’s student body. 

“I hope that this project keeps going on for the rest of the years of Portola while I’m not here,” Liao said. “It’s like a tradition that Portola can have, empowering the student body voice, and I hope that this can keep going on for the rest of the years of PNN so that it can get passed on.”

Though the video for this project has been finalized, students can contribute to future projects by tuning in for casting and submitting their videos by the designated deadline.