Students Hear Message of Respect at SJR Day of Inclusion

The faculty and student body of Saint Joseph Regional High School participated in its first ever “Day of Inclusion–Creating Christian Brotherhood” in February. The day- long program was intended to encourage respect and acceptance of the diversity in all people, each of whom is made in God’s image.

“The Day of Inclusion was an out-growth of our 2017 school musical, West Side Story,” said SJR Performing Arts Director John Asselta.When we performed West Side Story in 2008, we followed our production with a program called Project H.E.A.R.T.–Seeing The Face of God in Diversity where H.E.A.R.T. stood for Harmony, Empathy, Acceptance, Respect and Tolerance.  We knew that we wanted to do something like that again, though something a little more specific to our school community.”

To that end, Asselta teamed with SJR’s Campus Ministry Director, Mr. Joseph LoGiudice, to spearhead this effort. They began with a series of meetings that involved students, faculty members and administrators to develop a survey intended to assess the perception of the SJR student body on the degree to which they had experienced a lack of acceptance based on appearance, athleticism, religious beliefs, race and sexual orientation, both at school and in society as a whole.

“The survey provided a lot of good information, and became a kind of road-map for planning the Day of Inclusion,” said SJR Principal Michael Bruno. “The challenge became one of identifying a format for discussing these complex issues.”

Eventually, the committee identified Dr. Mykee Fowlin, a psychologist and actor, to facilitate the day’s presentation.  In November 2017, Dr. Fowler spent a day with the SJR faculty, enacting several vignettes in which he portrayed the kinds of students who often find themselves marginalized in a high school setting. His presentation, and the discussion groups that followed, empowered the faculty in its efforts to explore these issues.

“The purpose of this Day of Inclusion was to unite the teachings of Jesus with the realities of our daily lives,” said English teacher Roger Kintish, who was a member of the planning committee. “As Vir Fidelis, faithful men, we are called to create relationships that provide our family, friends and even the stranger with respect, loving support and dignity.”

The Day of Inclusion provided each student in the school with the opportunity to attend Dr. Fowlin’s presentation, to participate in a focused discussion of that dramatization, and to talk about their own personal experiences. Students in all four grades also viewed several related videos and participated in discussions with their teachers and peers.

The reaction was uniformly positive.

“The Day of Inclusion helped all of us to realize that we need to respect and treat our brothers at St. Joe’s as we would want to be treated: with kindness and respect,” said Ryan Buck ’21. “My classmates all felt that the message of Dr. Fowlin was great, and that the presentation was very inspiring.”

“The exit surveys from our students included comments like ‘eye-opening,’ ‘powerful,’ ‘relevant,’ ‘shocked’ and ‘touched,’” said science teacher Mrs. Joanne Cavera, who worked on the program from its inception. “It was so very rewarding to see our students stand up and call to themselves to act on Jesus’ teaching of brotherhood, respect and concern.”

The question now is what happens next.

“The challenge that remains is to bring the message of inclusion to life on a daily basis,” said Mr. LoGiudice. “The program itself seemed to be a great success, but now we need to think about how we can keep the values of respect and harmony in everyone’s minds in the weeks and months ahead.”