Heritage Panel Program Promotes Diversity and Inclusiveness

October 11, 2012

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and to combat the bullying epidemic facing students in Central Alabama, the YWCA's Heritage Panel program has been adopted by many local schools. This program, which aims to further the YW's mission of eliminating racism by creating a more caring community, empowers a diverse group of student leaders to make their school a more inclusive and welcoming place by creating a climate that discourages bullying and harassing behavior.

Bullying is one of the most prevalent issues facing students today. A recent U.S. study shows that 17 percent of students have been bullied at one point in their lives. Additionally, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ASPCC), each day 160,000 students refuse to go to school because they dread the physical and verbal aggression of their peers. 

The Heritage Panel is year-long program begins by training 25 middle and high school students and five educators during an intensive two-day workshop. During the training, participants are asked to evaluate themselves and their school community and brainstorm about ways to improve relations at school. Students then prepare to sit on a panel and discuss these controversial issues that are relevant to their school experience. These issues often include cliques, race, gender, cultural backgrounds and exclusion. Educators are prepared to moderate the discussions that follow panel presentations.

Upon the completion of the training, Heritage Panelists return to school ready to confront injustice and make their school more inclusive by facilitating Heritage Panel presentations for their fellow classmates. Heritage Panelists share a story of injustice they have experienced, perpetrated or witnessed. The panelists conclude their presentation by offering specific examples of how they are working to make their school a more inclusive place. Following the presentation, the audience is invited to engage in open dialogue about the issues discussed in the presentation. 

The training has proven to be eye-opening for students and educators alike. One Woodlawn High School student stated, "The most important thing I gained was the ability to tell my story and to use it to teach others about inclusion."

The Heritage Panel program is a program that works on a number of levels. First, the presentations allow potentially inflammatory issues to be discussed and dealt with in a proactive manner. The 25 students who go through the training have a transforming experience. Following the training, they interact with other students with increased sensitivity and compassion. They become empowered to be positive role models who affect the overall climate of the school.  Additionally, educators get crucial support and new tools to teach conflict management. 

The Heritage Panel program is run by AmeriCorps members who serve at the YWCA thanks to a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The Heritage Panel was created by NCCJ in 2000 and was implemented by them until 2009. The YWCA is pleased to continue the Heritage Panel program as a tool to create a more caring environment for all and thanks NCCJ for their support.

To receive more information about starting a Heritage Panel at your school, click here.

If you would like to make a donation to support this program, please click here.