To meet the America’s challenge of becoming a more complex and diverse society, most Delaware Valley school districts have built diversity into their curriculum and activities. These positive programs foster mutual respect and understanding.
No Place for Hate
The Anti Defamation League (ADL) initiative No Place for Hate, in place at more than 170 Delaware Valley schools, combats racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of intolerance, bullying and bigotry.
Participating schools form a committee that can include students, faculty, staff, parents and community leaders. Each year they complete three or more school-wide projects that increase understanding of different cultures, celebrate diversity and evoke a sense of community.
Randi Boyette, the ADL’s regional education director, says No Place for Hate helps students understand their own social identity, as well as their stereotypes of others. The activities “gently unwrap silence about race and other differences,” she says. In an atmosphere of safety and honesty, “students grow and change, increasing their empathy and understanding.”
The Responsive Classroom
Some area elementary schools employ the Responsive Classroom program, another pathway to mutual acceptance. Rather than projects and programming, Responsive Classroom is a set of principles and practices designed to increase student engagement and interaction,
improve social skills and encourage educators’ understanding of students and their families.
The Mount Laurel, NJ, School District has used Responsive Classroom for the past five years. According to Mary Fitzgerald, principal of Hillside Elementary School, the program is a proactive, effective way to build classroom community and increase students’ enjoyment of school.
Responsive Classroom brings students together through encouragement of caring, respectful behaviors that teachers and staff strive to model. According to Fitzgerald, “Basic changes in classroom practices, like greetings and morning meetings, have greatly increased feelings of acceptance and a sense of community among students.”
Many school districts fashion their own mix of homegrown and national diversity programs. Abington, PA, School District, conducts a broad, award-winning array of mutual respect initiatives.
These efforts include No Place for Hate and other anti-bullying and conflict resolution approaches, as well as extensive service learning activities and community partnerships, says community relations specialist Byron Goldstein.
The character education program at the Voorhees Township, NJ, School District supports diversity. In middle school, each grade is assigned a theme. This year, for example, 7th-grade projects focus on how we are all connected and related.
Voorhees Middle School’s principal, Diane Young, is especially proud of a hallway mural depicting the likenesses of every 7th grader holding hands with one another. (See above.)
Through diversity programs, schools are helping students to build new ways of thinking, and acting that ultimately will benefit their communities and society as a whole.
Sharon A. Hollander, PsyD is a New Jersey psychologist and freelance writer.