| Program: || UNITY, Edison, NJ |
| Contact(s): || Elaine J. Koplow, Advisor: (732) 549-5543 |
| Purpose: || To encourage students to discuss bias-related issues openly with each other, break down stereotyping, and create a more open and harmonious atmosphere in the school |
UNITY was founded in 1993 on the belief that prejudice is due to ignorance. At John P. Stevens High School in Edison, N.J., where more than half of its student population are students of color, tensions were rising as a result of a number of racial incidents in the school and the community. Over 400 local residents met at the school to express their concern. Teacher Elaine Koplow and a groups of her students met with the principal to discuss the racial situations that had occurred in the school. After this meeting, they created UNITY, a school club that meets to discuss issues dealing with race relations.
UNITY is a program run by a group of 30-35 trained student leaders. These leaders conduct weekly workshops during study hall periods. Each student leader leads a workshop/discussion with 10-15 students; the same groups meet weekly throughout the year. The program targets incoming ninth grade students. Student leaders recruit potential members for the club during study hall and among their fellow classmates. Students create activities and discussions based on actual incidents that occur in the school. Newspaper articles and videos also serve as the basis for discussion. Previous UNITY workshops have focused on: stereotyping, racial prejudice, interracial dating, affirmative action, gender roles, sexual harassment, discrimination against gays and lesbians, hate crimes, anti-Semitism, religious discrimination and the role of the media in creating stereotypes. The club has also conducted small group workshops once a week for the faculty, held programs for the PTA and other local organizations and taken field trips to Ellis Island and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
The program has 150-200 student participants each year in addition to the student leaders. There has been a steady decrease in the number of classes students have missed, disciplinary referrals and fights. The number of students at John P. Stevens High School who cut class fell nine percent between 1993 and 1997, while the number of out of school suspensions fell by almost 100 incidents between the 1995-1996 school year and 1996-1997. Students who participate in UNITY write a self-evaluation at the end of the program.