When Leigh Foran moved from New York City to Westport, Long Lots Elementary School classmates asked, “What are you?” Others made fun of the food she ate.
At Bedford Middle School, a girl wore a shirt with Japanese writing. “Ask Leigh what it means,” someone suggested.
“I don’t speak Japanese,” she says. “I’m half Korean, and half Irish.”
Lindsey Price had a different experience with differences. At a Westport “Stop Asian Hate” rally in 2021, a friend’s brother spoke about the racism he faced.
“I had no idea how Westport kids are treating other kids,” Lindsey says. “I was naive.”
Despite their differing backgrounds, Leigh and Lindsey — both Staples High School juniors — have a common goal. They want to teach children, from a young age, about the importance of inclusivity, particularly with peers who might not look like them.
So they started the Inclusion and Diversity through Education and Awareness (IDEA) club at Staples.
“It’s a natural instinct as kids to be rough around the edges,” Leigh notes. We teach them to embrace diversity. It’s great to have different foods and holidays.”
“Differences are good things, not bad,” Lindsey adds. “We want to make all kids feel welcome, and be friends.”
Working first with teachers Rebecca Marsick and Alexis Aaeng, and now social studies instructor Elizabeth McVaney, the girls researched and created lesson plans. They came up with a variety of themes, including inclusion, respect, empathy, diversity, holidays, families and activities.
They approached Westport Library youth services director Mary Parmelee. she was excited, and arranged for monthly sessions in the children’s library. Leigh and Lindsey read aloud, and do activities like drawing and crafts with the youngsters.
The lesson on food was instructive. The girls asked the children to draw their favorites. Everyone had something unique — showing that even with people who may look similar, there are differences.
With several other IDEA Club members, they’ve also done programs with the Westport Weston Cooperative Nursery School.
Parmelee and parents have been pleased, Lindsey and Leigh say.
For the founders, “it’s so sweet to see kids come out of their shell as the lesson goes on. There really are personal connections.”
The next Westport Library session is Saturday, April 22 (11 to 11:30 a.m.; click here for details).
Meanwhile, Leigh, Lindsey and other club members are creating more lesson plans, and looking for more preschools to work with.
What a great IDEA!
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As wonderful as is this student devised, organized and implemented program, the most jolting thing about it is that no adult educator in the entire system ever thought to do it.
I love this program and I think recognition that there are issues that children and young adults continue to face is important and educating and making people aware of differences (and similarities) are important. I’d just raise one caution (that I’m surprised no one brought up when the club was forming). In the field of education and diversity, IDEA already has a strong association with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that ensure all children are afforded an education no matter what their physical, cognitive, or developmental capabilities are.
It doesn’t take away from the message but it may interfere with the branding.
This sounds like a wonderful program. I’m especially thrilled that they are starting with Pre-School children. I was shocked years ago when I saw “mean girls” in Kindergarten. I say the earlier the better. Children are not born mean but most are born being able to hear, so please be careful what you say in front of your kids. They hear everything and they learn more from what they see and hear than from what you say to them directly. We have to break this pattern somehow. Thank you Leigh and Lindsay. We need more people like you in this world. Thanks Dan, these stories restore the faith!
Great work Leigh and Lindsey. Harrison our junior at Staples has shared some of your work and ideas with our family. Is there an inclusion and diversity day at Staples ? Our youngest son,( of our 5 kids) a 10th grader at Staples, who has non speaking autism, but has learned to communicate beatifully on his letterboard adn speak about his condition, would like to meet you . His name is Wynston Browne . There was an article in the Inklings supplement about him recently. He would still love more opportunities for inclusion and hanging out with peers.
Hello Mrs. Kommel-Browne,
It is so great to hear this from you, and I’ve seen the wonderful Inklings supplement about Wynston! We would love to meet up with him, and I’ve sent you a separate email so we can communicate about this further 🙂
I’m an educator in town and there is some of this happening in K-8. I am so proud of these kids for putting this together and doing it! Great that it’s kids to kids. Wonderful!
This is a wonderful undertaking. I wish it was something they had in the high school my kids went to when we moved to the US. My daughter was incessantly teased for her mixed accent and for the different words she used for things (French mother tongue, British father, American mother and Australian friends at the Int’l school she attended). It really upset her. When we moved them to a magnet school she put on a fake American accent and never told a sole she had ever lived abroad. She’s always said that a mandatory term abroad would help American students become more inclusive. (The ironic part was those same girls swooned over my son’s British accent instead of making fun of him.)
Another thing to consider is assigning two students to help new pupils navigate the ins and outs of a new, intimidating school, especially if they come from abroad.
Bravo to Leigh and Lindsey!
The Anglo-Canadian accent is preferred in the news media world.
There was a Staples group, American Field Service, that helped new students from abroad. I assumed it still existed.
Perhaps if parents would step up to the plate from the get-go it would take some of the burden off the schools to be crisis intervention specialists. I mean, I know the Golden Rule is so cornball but it does have it’s good points as a teaching tool for confused parents.
I will always remember a girl from Iceland who joined our Coleytown class (mid ‘60’s). She was applauded as a breath of fresh air.
One would expect that a town advertised as avant-garde today lived up to such character. When did it all change?