Building Unity in Community

Building Unity in Community

On Monday, March 9, our middle school students will spend most of the morning engaged in a program conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called “Building Unity in Community.”  The program will include an assembly led by ADL facilitator Rob T. Jones with follow-up discussion and activities led by our staff during an extended advisory time.

The goals of the program are to:

  • Explore the meaning of community and why it’s important for people to feel like they belong to a community.
  • Examine some of the ways young people might knowingly or unknowingly make their peers feel like they don’t belong to their school community.
  • Identify what young people can do to help each other feel like they belong to their school community, and in doing so, build unity in community.”

Why Are We Doing This?  

As you know, we value and work hard to maintain a safe, just and caring community at Lawrence.   We believe that our Advisory Program plays a positive role in supporting community for our middle school students.  Students in grades 6-8 participate in an advisory period three times a week.  The purpose of this program is to reflect on experiences during the week and to develop positive relationships among students and between students and an adult.  Advisory incorporates elements from the Developmental Designs program and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. 

We have recently become aware that some of our middle school students are increasingly engaged in what they would term “joking” about religion and race.  The more we talked to kids about it, the more concerned we were that students did not seem to “get” why this could be problematic.   This is not about political correctness. This is about truly understanding what it means, in the words of our school vision, for “students (to) learn to respect themselves and others and to value and honor the diversity of cultures, backgrounds, and learning differences.”  

 The middle school team, Laura Horst and I all feel strongly that this issue is important enough to warrant a special intervention in the form of a teach-in.  We also wanted to do something different from the ordinary advisory format.   Sometimes, bringing in an outside voice can have more of an impact.  And we had a positive experience working with the ADL a few years ago.

What Can Parents Do?

While planning for this day, ADL New England Director Phil Fogelman reminded me that we are not going to change this behavior simply by telling students not to do it. Instead, he recommended a positive focus – on building unity.

Parents, too, should stay positive.  We can start by noticing and naming an issue when it occurs.  We can use these moments to engage our children in conversations about what it means to understand and respect differences.

In last week’s PTO program, “Navigating the Middle School Years,” social worker Hope Schroy reminded us that our young adolescents may try to appear as if they do not care what the adults in their lives think, but, in fact, they do. As parents and educators, we need to be clear about what our values are and what really matters to us.  In this case, we need to be clear that “joking” about religion and race is not funny.

Rick Rogers   

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