Queens schools are awash in activities promoting culture and tolerance for the Respect for All Week that kicked off Monday, and nine of those borough institutions were recognized by the city for efforts to combat bullying and harassment.
“Our schools are rich in diversity, and we are celebrating this richness during Respect for All Week,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said. “Students and staff will be showcasing programs they are participating in about the importance of respecting people and embracing the differences in all of us.”
The city handed out the Respect for All awards this week to 24 schools throughout the city for their efforts to highlight diversity during last year’s event, including PS 66 in Richmond Hill, PS 107 in Flushing, PS 209 in Clearview Gardens, MS 74 in Bayside, PS 186 in Bellerose, PS 90 in Richmond Hill, PS 155 in South Ozone Park, PS 95 in Jamaica and PS 177 in Fresh Meadows.
The Department of Education created the award in consultation with the City Council as part of its efforts to combat bullying, which plagues schools throughout the five boroughs.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, 77 percent of students are bullied mentally, verbally or physically during their school career. A report issued last year by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Sikh Coalition stated that about two-thirds of the teachers who responded to a survey they conducted in 2010 said they had witnessed bias-based harassment in their schools.
While critics, including officials at AALDEF and NYCLU, have said the Department of Education has not done enough to curb bullying in schools, they have praised the city for implementing Respect for All Week, saying it is a step in the right direction.
“While many schools undertook only minimal efforts to acknowledge the week, such as announcing it during morning line-up or passing out a flier, many other schools brought in community organizations to conduct trainings, or performances highlighting diversity and social justice issues,” the AALDEF report stated.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) also emphasized the importance of creating a space where students of all backgrounds feel comfortable.
“We have a responsibility to provide every student in New York City with a safe and inclusive learning environment,” Quinn said. “Teaching our students to embrace diversity is essential to preventing hate among future generations. Furthermore, research has linked positive school climates with academic gains.”
As part of the respect event, the city’s Office of School and Youth Development makes resources available to principals and other staff, including sample lesson plans and connections to community organizations that offer free curricular resources promoting diversity.
PS 66 Principal Phyllis Leinwand said they were honored by the recognition.
“We’re very excited,” Leinwand said. “They made mention that we’re the first elementary school to be landmarked and gave us a big shout out for that.”
Fallon Panetta, a guidance counselor at PS 66, said the school works year-round to combat negative behavior, not just during Respect for All Week.
Still, she said the week-long event gives the school a chance to really emphasize the importance of working with people very different from oneself.
Students, for example, read a book titled “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Debra McCloud, which teaches children that they can feel good about themselves by supporting others.
After reading the book, a teacher will place a Styrofoam ball in a class’s bucket each time the instructor notices a pupil acting kindly.
At the end of the week, teachers will reward the class with something special, such as a homework pass or free time, if the bucket was filled.
“Every day we also have a theme, so, for example, we have a hat day to say, ‘Let’s put a lid on teasing,’ or we have pajama day to say, ‘Let’s put name calling to sleep.’”
Students also create posters about what respect means to them and how to stop bullying, and pupils engage in service learning projects throughout the year, such as raising money for cancer research.
“They really enjoy this week,” Panetta said. “A lot come forward and say how it gives them new insight. It makes them look at themselves and how their actions are affecting others.”