Parent and taxpayer response

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Building Positive School Climates

Building Positive School Climates

May/June, 2014 • Volume 44 • 6
ADL’s Making Diversity Count program can help reduce bullying and bias

By ANDREA TOPPER
Today’s youth live in an increasingly diverse country. The U.S. Department of Education reports that in 2013, 49 percent of K-12 public school students were students of color, compared to 39 percent in 2000. By 2021, projections show that number will increase to 53 percent of K-12 public school enrollment.
New Jersey mirrors the national trend. According to New Jersey Department of Education data, in 2000 40 percent of K-12 public school students were students of color. That percentage grew to 50 percent in 2013. However, diversity does not necessarily translate into inclusion and respect for differences. Bias, discrimination and identity-based bullying among youth persist and can escalate into violence.

According to the National Center of Education Statistics, 28 percent of students ages 12-18 have been bullied in school. Findings from the Teen Online and Wireless Safety Survey indicate that 24 percent of respondents report being cyberbullied during their lifetimes. Students’ identity or perceived identity, such as sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity and physical appearance, is often reported as a key motivator for bullying. One in 10 students reports that someone at school has used hate-related words against them and over a third have seen hate-related graffiti at school. These experiences are teaching young people that it is acceptable to exclude, demean and behave maliciously toward those considered different.

Forty-seven percent of high school students do not tell anyone if they are the target of bullying behavior. They remain silent for fear of retaliation or of being accused of tattling or snitching. They do not think adults will handle it well, reporting that adults either do nothing or their actions did not improve the situation.

In light of these trends and demonstrating its commitment to anti-bullying, New Jersey passed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (P.L.2010, c.122) in January 2011, and amended in March 2012. This comprehensive bill established a strong statutory, regulatory, policy and program framework to support the prevention, remediation and reporting of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) in schools.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), founded in 1913, is an organization that remains committed to combating anti-Semitism, bias and bigotry through advocacy and anti-bias education programs. ADL has been a long-time leader in the development of Pre-K-12 curriculum affirming diversity and addressing bias and prejudice in schools. More than a decade ago, ADL was among the first to recognize the threat of bullying and cyberbullying and to develop effective bullying prevention and intervention programs for educators, students, parents and the community.

One of the programs ADL offers to schools and school districts across the country is a comprehensive online anti-bias training course called Making Diversity Count. This easy-to-navigate, self-paced online course provides teachers, administrators, counselors and school staff with useful tools and information to improve school climate and build culturally responsive and inclusive classrooms that promote respect, fairness and equity.

The course offers educators practical skills for helping students develop effective response strategies when they or others are targets of bullying. Through video vignettes of classroom situations, participants witness various acts of bias in the classroom. They then practice ways to respond to the bias by choosing different solutions and seeing the resulting outcomes. They can click on expert advice tabs and listen to authorities in the field offer suggestions in how to handle difficult and often unexpected situations. They can complete interactive activities, participate in a moderated discussion board, write reflections in a journal, adapt lesson plans for use in their own classrooms, and customize an action plan to integrate multicultural practices into their teaching. Upon completion, participants receive a certificate for 15 professional development hours.

Topics covered in the course include: working through the challenges of diversity in the classroom, exploring personal and student identity, defining exclusive and insensitive language, creating culturally responsive classrooms, understanding value-laden conflicts and confronting bias, bullying and name calling.
Educators say that this course is unique because it provides clear and practical ways to handle uncomfortable conversations and challenging circumstances. One educator said, “The course is designed to engage teachers by presenting real and interesting scenarios that truly tested the way I think about and approach diversity in my classroom. Diversity should count and for me, this course helped me examine my own teaching and provide tangible ways to make it count.”

In recent course evaluations of Making Diversity Count, 84 percent of participants reported that the course gave them specific tools to help make their classrooms more inclusive and bias free, 86 percent stated that it showed them ways to be more proactive managing cross cultural communication and 87 percent said they would recommend Making Diversity Count to a colleague.

The comprehensive course includes nine modules and typically takes 12-15 hours to complete. ADL suggests that participants complete the course in 12-16 weeks, which amounts to a commitment of about one hour per week.

ADL offers the course to a school or district for their teachers for a nominal license fee. For more information, contact Andrea Topper 212-885-7837.

Andrea Topper is project director of ADL Making Diversity Count.

Source: New Jersey School Board Association Newsletter