It was only after her death that Lili Smith’s classmates realized the extent to which they had excluded her from their regular social activities.
Born with a cranial facial syndrome called “Apert’s,” Smith was a voracious and effective activist for social injustice issues. Yet, in her own classrooms she was shunned due to her different appearance.
Beyond Differences was founded by Smith’s parents and a teen board of her former classmates. They have created curriculum and events, including one based on the Know Your Neighbor concept, to make schools more inclusive for everyone. Know Your Classmates Day will be marked on October 25, 2019.
Why Know Your Classmates?
“From day #1, Know Your Classmates was created as a partnership between the Islamic Networks Group and our non-profit, Beyond Differences, as we were heartbroken by the worsening crisis of bullying against Muslim children in our country. Just yesterday, a new study reported that 40% of California Muslim students are bullied in school.” explains Laura Talmus, a Co-founder and Executive Director of Beyond Differences.
While bullying and bigotry steadily increase in society, the Know Your Classmates initiative is the sort of key to restoring empathy and humanity in schools. Their program has found everyone personally affected by isms in schools, especially:
– Those with learning differences
– Undocumented students
– English-language learners
– LGBTQ students and families
– Muslim, Jewish and other religious minorities
– Students of Color
Unfortunately, it becomes worse in the case of Muslim students. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of visibly Muslim respondents told the Pew Research Center in 2017 that they’ve experienced at least one instance of religious discrimination in the past year.
Keys to Ending Isms
The Beyond Differences campaigns have reached over half a million students across the United States. They are targeting isolation issues with their “No One Eats Alone” campaign (Friday, February 14, 2020) and curbing cyber bullying with “Call it Out Day” (May 15, 2020) .
The Know Your Classmates curriculum and activities aim to support teachers and students to “explore issues of self-identity, stereotypes and embracing differences among one another.” The activities are mainly for middle schoolers, but may be used for students as young as 5th grade.
Talmus says, “The benefits of reaching children early and often have been proven to profoundly and positively effect their sense of belonging and the likelihood of them of not only participating in school but excelling in academics! We cannot stress enough how important it is to bring programs like Know Your Classmates to schools all over the country so that every child can have access to these social and emotional learning tools.”
Beyond Differences’ curriculum is available online here.
Four Ice Breaker Tips to Know Your Classmates
You can extend peace and friendship yourself by trying some of these tips to better know your classmates:
1 – Give Greetings
It’s that simple. Just make eye contact and say “Hi!”
2 – Join School Clubs
Explore your interests through school clubs and have some fun with your classmates, that’s a great deal.
3 – Join or Start a Study Group
Another win-win situation as studying in groups has proven to be more effective than doing it alone.
4 – Attend School Events
Support your classmates in their efforts to make the school a better place, you may have a really good time.