New York, NEW YORK—Last week, Feb. 13-17, marked the third annual Respect For All Week in New York’s public school system. Respect For All Week is an annual weeklong celebration of schools’ efforts to uphold the Respect For All Policy enacted in schools in 2007.
The Respect For All Policy is a set of guidelines teachers use to promote diversity and discourage bias-based harassment in the classroom. The policy manual defines bias-based harassment as “intimidation and/or bullying acts committed by students against other students that substantially interferes with the student’s mental, emotional or physical well-being.”
The policy also puts a strategic system in place for students, teachers and parents to report and handle issues of bullying.
As part of Respect For All Week, many public schools host presentations, assemblies, dramas and lectures focused on reducing bullying in the school setting. According to New York City Council Member Mathangi Subramanian, many schools also incorporate Respect For All ideas into their classrooms.
For example, Subramanian said, “Students may read about Martin Luther King Jr. in history class and write a poem about bullying in English class.”
The mission of the program is to eliminate bullying in public schools and create an environment where students feel safe and free from harassment. “Ending bullying is totally necessary for academic gains – kids can’t learn if they’re scared for their personal safety and mental health,” Subramanian said.
Over the past three years the program has created safer environments and helped kids feel more comfortable at school. “One huge outcome is that [the program has] opened up conversations about bullying that didn’t happen before. It’s also helped kids feel safer being themselves,” Subramanian said.
Respect For All Week events are made possible by organizations like ENACT and the Sikh Coalition. These organizations, along with others, organize classroom speeches, creative dramas and other activities that promote diversity in a classroom setting.
“Our creative drama approach promotes self-awareness and improves social and emotional skills in NYC public school students, parents and staff,” Diana Feldman, president of ENACT Inc said.
According to the education director of the Sikh Coalition, Manbeena Kaur, its representatives must undergo a three-day training program and pass an evaluation before they are allowed to give presentations in schools. The Sikh Coalition takes bullying seriously and wants presentations delivered properly.
The annual Respect For All Week has grown and progressed over the past three years and NYC City Council has hopes that it will continue to grow. “Respect For All is a vitally important policy,” Subramanian said. “We’re so excited that the week is growing and drawing attention to this really critical issue.”