Embracing Diversity, Supporting Inclusion

   A club at John Jay High School is all about creating a community of acceptance and understanding. It's called A World of Difference (AWOD) and it was started a number of years ago through a relationship with the Anti-Defamation League.

Thanks to the work of AWOD and its tenacious president, senior Catherine Troiano, as well as the Special Education PTA (SEPTA) and Kim Piccolino, Assistant Principal of John Jay High School, one of the district’s signature programs at the elementary level—Differences Day—came to John Jay High School on April 5 and 6.

“My dream was to bring Differences Day to the high school before I graduated,” said Trioiano.

Differences Day is a workshop that gives students an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes. Through activities that simulate physical challenges and learning differences, students discover what it is like to carry a lunch tray while using a wheelchair, participate in sports if you are visually impaired, or answer questions when you have a speech impairment.

“The biggest point of this day is to get students to understand the challenges people with special needs face daily," said Troiano. "Hopefully students can become more understanding and accepting.”

AWOD works with the school community and beyond. Each April the club volunteers at Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital’s program for developmentally disabled teens--making cupcakes and crafts, and doing Zumba together. This work has been profound for Troiano, and is part of her decision to study Therapeutic Recreation at SUNY Cortland in the fall.

 "AWOD gives students the opportunity to develop real-world skills that will help them succeed in high school and beyond," said Tina Russo, the club's advisor and technology teacher at John Jay Middle School. "Most importantly, students learn that the work they do in our club can make a real impact in the world."


(Differences Day at John Jay High School on left)

(AWOD members pictured above: Lauren Diack, Natalie Misiano, Izzy Rosen, Catherine Troiano, Rachel Cifarelli, Danielle Meltz, Jaime Schaus. Not pictured: Kayla Brandt, Isabella Weiner, Katrina Weiner, Kate Gallagher, Paris Kicks, Tyler Malave, Lauren Stickler, and club advisor Tina Russo.)

 More about Differences Day in the elementary schools here. 

Differences Day at John Jay High School

DIVERSITY DAY—a pilot program

There's a new initiative in the district to nurture positive attitudes to cultural diversity. It's called Diversity Day, and it piloted at Katonah Elementary School (KES) in February.

Nine teens from AWOD visited KES during a Sharing Assembly to talk to the students about diversity and read “Spoon” to the children. The picture book by Amy Krause Rosenthal tells the story of a spoon who feels inadequate and wants to be a fork, or a knife, or chopsticks, but learns how he contributes important things as well.

The teens led hands-on-your-head “Group Membership” games for the whole school, and a small group exercise called “Getting to Know You” with the fourth and fifth graders to help children notice their similarities and differences. Some of them had siblings, or spoke a second language; others played different sports, and were born in countries other than the US.

“Understanding our diversity is the first step towards inclusion," said Jessica Fulton, social worker at KES. “These simple activities help children learn about each other and create a supportive environment.” 

Making a World of Difference

Sharing Diversity with Younger Students