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Teenage agents of tolerance

Teenage agents of tolerance

By Lois K. Solomon
Education Writer

November 9, 2002

BOCA RATON + Sarah Winfield's fifth-grade class listens dutifully when she talks. But when the cool teenagers from Olympic Heights High School come to visit each week, they really listen.

The teenagers, members of the Key Club, play games that promote cultural diversity and teach racial and religious tolerance to the Whispering Pines Elementary School students. They meet each Friday as part of a pilot project between two school staffers, Olympic Heights media specialist Debbie Siegel and Whispering Pines speech pathologist B.J. Saul.

The women have taken several courses in tolerance education from the school district's Holocaust studies department and brainstormed the elementary school-high school project as they thought of ways to promote diverse cultures at their schools.

"We wanted to see if teamwork, cooperative learning, helps get the point across,'' Siegel said. "We're finding that the worst behaved child becomes engaged.''

Many teachers have sought creative ways to teach tolerance after taking courses in Holocaust studies, which became mandatory for all Florida students in 1998. Eileen Shapiro, Holocaust studies planner for the Palm Beach County School District, said more than 500 teachers have participated in the past year's workshops, which included trips to Holocaust museums and seminars that explore bigotry and how to prevent it in children.

"We deal with emotional issues, and it touches them,'' Shapiro said. "We teach them that each one of them can make a difference. You don't have to wait for a big group of people to be galvanized. You can do it on your own.''

Saul and Siegel said they get many of their ideas from a Web site, On a recent Friday, they asked six groups of fifth graders, each led by a Key Club member, to describe lemons placed on their tables.

The teachers then mixed up the lemons and students were able to find them easily, based on their shapes, bumps and discolorations. But once the students peeled the lemons, they saw the fruits were equally sour, seeded and fragrant.

"It's much harder to describe a lemon without the peel,'' Saul told them. "You don't want to give something a label before you find out what it's all about.''

In future weeks, the Key Clubbers and fifth-graders will learn about the many religious holidays that come in winter and will make a colorful quilt that shows what they've learned. Key Club members said working in a group and learning the dangers of stereotyping are important lessons.

"It's good to learn all this stuff now, with all that's going on in the world,'' said Kasie Simpson, an Olympic Heights junior. "Who you are is determined in middle school. You learn how to make friends and who can be a good friend. I remember those days well.''

The fifth-graders say they also are inspired by the Key Club members.

"We get to see what older kids are like,'' student Shawna Hauschild said. "They know a lot more than us.''

Lois Solomon can be reached at or 561-243-6536.

Copyright Ā 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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