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Quakertown School District to be honored for inclusion program


The Quakertown Community School District will be honored by The Peace Center for implementing its diversity and inclusion program for elementary school students, “Celebrating Me, Celebrating You,” at a districtwide level.

“It’s the only district in Bucks County to do so,” said Kate Whitman, assistant director for The Peace Center, a social justice organization. “This is a well-deserved honor for the district.”

The Peace Center Auction Gala is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at Spring Mill Manor in Ivyland.

“We very much appreciate this recognition given to our school district by the Peace Center,” Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner said. “More importantly, the work they have done in our classrooms, the lessons they have shared, have been a great benefit to our students. Our teachers have embraced the curriculum and feedback from our parents has been very positive.”

All district fourth graders complete the program designed to develop tolerance and empathy among students while building a more inclusive classroom community. Once a week, they take part in five, 45-minute sessions.

The curriculum, which takes place during a science/social studies period, was one of several initiatives taken by district officials following a Cheltenham-Quakertown football game, after Strayer Middle School students shouted racial taunts at Cheltenham’s cheerleaders.

Following the disappointing event, Harner told the school board he would do everything he could to “drive a bus through our racism problem.” With the board’s approval, he has attacked the issue on several fronts.

Pearl S. Buck International brought its “Welcome Workplace” program to the district, where it gave 473 confidential assessments to district employees, including administrators, teachers and school board members assessing their own personal views.

PSBI followed up those surveys with confidential, one-on-one discussions with each board member and administrator, and held group meetings with teachers at each school. It also helped the district set up a Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Harner held a dinner for parents of African-American students to hear their concerns and explain district plans to address them. He also visited Cheltenham, the high school he graduated from, to speak with students, parents and educators in the days following the incident. “Since October, our community has had a ton of courageous conversations. It was a great teachable moment,” he said.

A portion of the superintendent goals for 2019-20 have been shaped by these initiatives. They include:

– Develop and consistently reinforce a positive culture for learning at the classroom, building, district, and community level.

– Develop and consistently reinforce a positive culture of service, respect and diversity at the classroom, building, district and community level.

– Develop programming and opportunities for participation in the MLK National Day of Service in January 2020.

– Be vigilant in ensuring the safety and security of all school buildings and the central office. Address student wellness as a component of ensuring safe and secure schools.

Whitman, who teaches several of the “Celebrating Me, Celebrating You” classes, said, “In prioritizing diversity and inclusion programming, Quakertown Community School District is a model for what we would like to see in school districts around Bucks County and beyond. We would like to thank everyone in the Quakertown Community School District for displaying the courage and commitment that peacebuilding requires.”

She praised Harner for reaching out to The Peace Center and prioritizing this programming as a districtwide initiative. She also thanked the elementary school principals for coordinating the program in their buildings and being active participants in lessons; the teachers who reinforced the lessons and made the curriculum part of their classroom cultures, and the PTOs who brought these conversations to parents across the district.

“Creating peace is a community effort,” Whitman said, “and without all of you, creating peace for our students would not be possible. Thank you for partnering with us in peace.”

Gary Weckselblatt is director of communications for Quakertown Community School District.