STUDENTS are breaking down the barriers of prejudice around the world as part of a new diversity initiative.
South Shields School has staged its first Diversity Day looking at people of all faiths and none, celebrating shared values and different beliefs around social issues ranging from sexuality to disabilities and mental health.
Assistant head teacher Catherine Robson said: “In this region we do not have a great deal of opportunity to appreciate fully the value of difference. The rationale behind this initiative is to enrich and broaden students’ experience and understanding.”
The country is experiencing more reported cases of hate crime around race and homophobia since the result of the Brexit referendum.
Students took part in workshops, including a question time with different faith members from the local community, considering the nature of belief through music, film, popular culture and art.
They also had sessions on disabilities, including how people have overcome adversity to become successful, Islamophobia, discrimination and stereotyping, the challenges faced by the LGBT community, while Years 10 and 11 looked at relationships and consent.
Local faith members Harpal Singh Kahlon, Curt Gardener, Shah Amin and the Rev Kate Boardman joined students for the inaugural event.
As part of the celebration, students also developed a religious profile for South Shields which will be used to design a culture trail in the area.
Year 8 student Ryley Caddoo, 12, said: “I have a brother who has disabilities so I know how difficult life can be.”
Jak Parks, 12, said: “It is really inspiring to hear how people with disabilities can still go on to be successful.”
Year 7 student Rikiya Wilkie, 12, added: “I was amazed how differently I thought at the end of the day. It was really useful learning that even if you are different that is ok and I really enjoyed discussing what I thought about the various issues.”
Year 9 student Abigail Snell said: “I was surprised with the statistics around LGBT and how few people feel they can be open about it. It is improving in this country. When you look how it was portrayed in the media before, when it was much more flamboyant, now in the TV soaps it is much more every day, ordinary and accepted.”
Headteacher Allie Denholm said: “Our new Diversity Day initiative is aimed at raising awareness and educating students about diversity and inclusion and the integration of people from all walks of life within our own community.
“It sends a powerful signal about people working together for the good of society and about the importance of positive inter faith relations, tolerance and empathy.”
The next diversity sessions, in April, will concentrate on mental health, wellbeing and mindfulness.