As a school with a multitude of different cultures, Ridgewood High makes a serious effort to ensure that each and every ethnic background gets represented and treated with respect. This goal is implemented in many different clubs, events, and activities that ensure that RHS students, staff, and faculty are able to embrace their own cultures while also learning about the cultures of their peers. Specifically, over the past couple of years, RHS has bolstered their initiative to encourage cultural awareness by bringing in a variety of guest speakers to enlighten students and inspire them to be accepting. However, pondering the effectiveness of these assemblies left us with a few questions: Do students actually remember what they learn from the speakers that come to RHS, or do they just view presentations as a ticket out of class? Is it popular practice for students to simply skip the assemblies? Ultimately, are these presentations even effective?
In recent years, RHS students have had the pleasure of listening to countless professionals, who educate them about the dangers of cultural indifference as well as the importance of accepting others, no matter their personal preferences or backgrounds. Examples of these esteemed speakers include Michael Fowlin, Christopher Zakian, and Dr. Roger Harris, just to name a few. Most recently, detective David D’Amico spoke to students, staff, and faculty about the dangers of hate in his Hate Has No Place Here talk, which was prompted after an instance of blatant hate and antisemitism took place at RHS. Because the incident occurred within our own walls, it was crucial for each and every member of the Ridgewood High School community to not only attend the talk but also be attentive the entire time. Unfortunately, this was not always the case.
Of course, it’s natural that kids might space out while listening to an extensive presentation. However, some students went as far as to skip the assembly entirely, causing them to miss out on valuable lessons.
So, what can we do to make sure that each RHS student gets the most out of his or her experience at every assembly? Luckily, our very own teachers exhibit prime examples of what educators should do to make sure that a speaker’s words stay in the minds of their students. For example, after the Hate Has No Place Here talk, teachers of various subjects took time out of their lessons in order to debrief with their classes about the assembly. This ensured that the lessons outlined by detective D’Amico remained prevalent while emphasizing that such lessons were just as important as academic material. Additionally, despite not being able to participate in class-wide discussions, students who unattentive or absent from the assembly were able to learn the material by listening to the in-depth discussions of their peers and teachers.
Naturally, there are those that may stay skeptical or disinterested regardless of school incidents or unified assemblies. Still, RHS still has some work to do before it can claim that it fully accepts or embraces other cultures, and school-sponsored talks and supportive instructors have proven to be a great support for further progress in the community.
Eugene Park and Ellie Tsapatsaris
Graphic: Evie Cullen