By Catherine Bialkowski
When Principal Julie DiGiacomo received word that her very own school, Mt. Pleasant, was ranked as one of the most diverse learning environments in New Jersey by Public School Review, she was delighted, but admittedly not surprised.
The West Orange elementary school recognizes diversity on a daily basis – it’s simply part of being a student there. The town itself is incredibly diverse, so it’s only natural for children to learn from a young age that differences should be celebrated.
“This award only clarifies what we already knew,” DiGiacomo explained. “It’s not surprising, but it’s wonderful to receive formal recognition for something so important, and to actually have data to back it up.”
Students rarely pass through a day without touching on the subject of diversity at Mt. Pleasant. A favorite club among the children is “Woot,” a student-run activity with which students teach each other about the importance and beauty of differences. Woot’s theatrical performances, which showcase the endless benefits of living and learning in a diverse setting, are a favorite among students and staff. Organized by guidance counselor Lisa Struncis, the effects of this club do not come to a halt when Woot is not formally in session. Its message has reached the entire student body.
Woot is not the only part of Mt. Pleasant that helps the children better understand what diversity means.
“Teachers are strategic about their lessons,” DiGiacomo said. “They choose to teach in a style that capitalizes on acceptance, and, when appropriate, certainly bring up the subject of diversity.”
On June 9, Mt. Pleasant School took an hour out of the day, after the annual end-of-year carnival and barbecue, to celebrate its spot as one of the most diverse schools in N.J. Students created flags of their families’ cultures and participated in a school-wide discussion about what it means to come from different social, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Afterward, everyone sang “It’s A Small World After All,” and the effect was, in the words of the principal, “amazing.”
“With this award, students and teachers alike can more easily understand the full extent of what we have at our school,” she went on to explain. Students at Mt. Pleasant are lucky enough to already see diversity as a part of the fabrics of the school itself. For them, this assembly was an exciting reward for their efforts and understanding. They loved celebrating the day together.
This award will not be forgotten anytime soon, and diversity will continue to be an important aspect of Mt. Pleasant School.
DiGiacomo, who became principal last July, has no doubt that students and staff alike will continue to be accepting to the differences in everyone who is a part of the school.
“I will keep trying my best to be a leader for equity and sensitivity,” she said. The legacy of the award is in the hands of the students themselves, who are already living examples of the importance of teaching about diversity. It truly is, as the children sang, “a small world after all.”