Following right after yesterday’s anti-bullying Spirit Day is the synergistic National Know Your Classmates Day, an initiative aimed at ending social isolation, nurturing healthy relationships, and addressing fear of differences among middle school students. Over 1100 schools across the country are taking part this year.
The national awareness day is organized by Beyond Differences, “the only student-led nonprofit organization and social justice movement dedicated to ending social isolation.” The day is part of a national campaign that also includes a free curriculum and activities to foster discussions as well as interactive exercises around cultural, religious, and identity differences. The curriculum covers topics like self-identity, healthy communication, empathy and compassion, and diverse expressions of gender, culture, and love.
Laura Talmus, co-founder and executive director of Beyond Differences, explained, “We need to educate young people and elevate them as student leaders to eliminate stereotypes and prejudices that hurt Muslim-American children, LGBTQ youth, undocumented students and English-language learners and make everyone feel like they belong.”
Beyond Differences was founded in 2009 by the parents of Lili Smith, who was born with a cranial facial syndrome and was socially isolated during her middle school years. Lili hadn’t been bullied or teased, notes Beyond Differences, “but she was often treated as if she were invisible.” After her death at age 15 because of medical complications from her syndrome, a group of local teens realized they had been leaving Lili out and how hurtful that had been. They came together to create change in their local schools, and Lili’s parents nurtured their efforts into a national initiative to inspire and empower middle school students to end social isolation.
Is your child’s school (or another school in your district) taking part today or using the Beyond Differences curriculum at other times? If so, ask your child how it went, and learn more about how to get involved in Know Your Classmates or Beyond Differences as a student, parent, or teacher.