Two recently published reports confirmed that New Jersey has some of the most segregated schools in the nation. According to Rutgers-Newark and UCLA researchers, nearly half of Black and Latino students attended NJ schools where less than 10 percent of the students were white or that had no white students. A total of 191 were defined “apartheid schools,” meaning less than 1 percent of the students were white and at least 79 percent low income.
As we mark the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education later this year, we are reminded of the rich legacy of our signature Lead for Diversity (LFD) program for students and educators throughout the state. Formerly called Anytown, LFD was introduced during school desegregation in 1956 with the same goals as today: to bring together students from diverse communities to participate in an initiative in which they live together and learn from one another. Working across cultural lines, they break down stereotypes (including ethnic, racial, faith, and gender identity), and create a respectful and inclusive community that ultimately transforms their lives. The collective work the students engage in transcends into positive change within their immediate circles, schools, and communities.
This past summer during our weeklong LFD residential leadership-development camp, students from 24 charter, public comprehensive, magnet, private high schools, and vocational high schools, and their advisors, made the yearlong commitment, identified opportunities to apply the awareness they gained, and developed Action Plans to be implemented throughout the school year. The valuable personal development and professional skills gained through this experiential learning model positions our LFD delegates for greater academic and career success.
On January 10, 83 LFD participants gathered at Georgian Court University for our Advanced Peer Leadership Training Reunion. Titled “Telling Our Story,” this year’s delegates engaged in and facilitated large group icebreakers and small group discussions and workshops related to stereotype reduction, social identity awareness, and youth empowerment. Students from across the state also shared the progress of their Action Plans. A few examples:
Cedar Creek High School (Egg Harbor City) ~ Held an Ability Status month during which they educated faculty about students living with disabilities to promote awareness of the various issues that people face based on their social identities.
Freehold Township High School (Freehold Township) ~ Created “I’m an Identity, But I’m Not a Stereotype” video portraying students disproving stereotypes. The video was presented to the entire school as well as to the municipal alliance. It will also be showcased at an upcoming town council meeting.
Kearny High School (Kearny) ~ Conducting ongoing monthly REACH out peer-leadership meetings to address issues related to social identity such as racism, gender oppression, and heterosexism and provide social-justice awareness.
Lakewood High School (Lakewood Township) ~ Making an educational video and lesson guide about bias reduction that will be shared with all teachers across the district.
Princeton Day School (Princeton) ~ Plan to hold an assembly focused on socioeconomic status. The featured speaker will be Columbia University professor Shamus Rahman Khan, author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite.
St. Benedict’s Preparatory School (Newark) ~ Will present “Verbal Dehumanization Towards Women,” a series of workshops and discussions on gender language to raise awareness of the impact of derogatory words.
Secaucus High School (Secaucus) ~ Developed a Peer Leadership Club for students who cannot fit a Peer Leadership class into their schedule. Thanks to their efforts, the school board approved a club advisor position in December. The student delegates will meet monthly to discuss the inappropriate, casual language used in school. Students will also hold a workshop during the school’s Cultural Activity Day in April.
University Academy Charter High School (Jersey City) ~ Using iPads to video record their peers’ experiences with diversity and stereotyping. The students will incorporate the interviews into a video presentation that they will share with the entire school population.
LFD as well as our other youth and collegiate initiatives, including School Swaps and Awareness to Action workshops, help create inclusive learning environments within New Jersey educational institutions. What NJ high-school advisors are saying:
►“Students consistently begged for us to bring LFD back to the school. I am a full-time coach and teacher, so I was already strapped for time. But the students are great, and even though I was busy, I wanted to do whatever I could to help them.”
►“Students made lesson plans for teachers to send to schools in the district, and they took the initiative to do it all on their own after LFD.”
►”Ninety-nine percent of the students who go through LFD put this kind of work into their life’s work and it influences what they do with their lives after LFD.”
CALL TO ACTION: Join our efforts to make this experience accessible for more students in NJ! Become a partner in education by sponsoring a school or making a contribution to provide scholarships for schools in underserved communities.
Learn more about how the American Conference on Diversity is empowering the next generation of leaders through diversity education here: http://americanconferenceondiversity.org/youth-collegiate-services/. If you are interested in registering your high school in our Lead for Diversity 2014, go to http://americanconferenceondiversity.org/lead-for-diversity.
About the American Conference on Diversity
The programs, services, and initiatives of the American Conference on Diversity are among the most important work focused on creating a more inclusive society. It is the unfinished business of living in a highly diverse nation: educating and empowering our next generation of leaders; enhancing our workplaces; and helping to create inclusive communities. The American Conference on Diversity, which has been serving schools, organizations, workplaces, and communities in New Jersey since 1948, builds on a historic mission and creates programs and activities relevant and vital to 21st Century life. It is a journey we can all take together. The American Conference on Diversity operates Regional Community Networks covering all of New Jersey. Visit www.AmericanConferenceonDiversity.org to learn more.
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