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IDA Workshops: Interview With Mrs. Blake

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Mrs. Blake is the International Day of Acceptance (IDA) workshops advisor, and she was kind enough to reflect on and answer some questions regarding this important day of embracing and accepting each other.

The IDA workshops are definitely popular among BCA students, as we are given the opportunity to become more involved with the idea of acceptance. How did this day start and become such a valuable tradition here?

Three years ago, I was approached by a student named Mackenzie Foy, who wanted to transform the International Day of Tolerance into the International Day of Acceptance, which was a more inclusive name for this day. In addition to the existing traditional celebrations of cultures, dances, songs, poetry, and other artistic forms, she envisioned an educational component to IDA. So together, we brainstormed an early model of workshops, and a few months later, the Diversity Alliance was born!

At that time, Mackenzie was in charge of Diversity Alliance, and she, along with a handful of other students and teacher volunteers, Mr. Lynch, Ms. Sytsma, and myself, had launched the first round of workshops. I actually ran a workshop myself, about various perspectives on feminism.

Since then, we’ve taken various measures to improve IDA workshops by utilizing feedback from BCA students. We plan the different topics around what the student body feels that they need and want to learn more about. In fact, this year, we ran forty-four workshops in a variety of areas that each loosely fall under the umbrella of social justice. We also had thirty-six outside speakers this year, many of whom are experts in their field or are affiliated with outside organizations, which is pretty amazing! A few teachers continue to volunteer their time and talents to run workshops, as well. IDA has truly grown over the past few years and I’m very proud to be the advisor of the Diversity Alliance!

You said earlier that our school changed the name of this day from the International Day of Tolerance to the International Day of Acceptance. What do you think is the significance of a change in just one word?

Tolerance stifles conversations and interactions among groups of people with differing views. But acceptance encompasses mutual respect. Acceptance involves empathy. Acceptance is active and makes us a community of thinkers who have the ability to speak freely and openly. And rather than merely being tolerated, we can be accepted for our views, no matter what our views may be.

How do you think the workshops impact BCA as a community?

I think that the workshops foster a sense of camaraderie and empathy in our student population. I also hope that the various workshops remind students that there is a world beyond BCA and beyond Bergen County, where they have the ability to enact positive change in ways that they see fit, in areas that they notice are in need of fixing or revitalizing. And on an everyday level, I wish for students to become inspired to talk to people that they may not agree with, not just in terms of politics, but also in terms of life and cultural views. Hopefully, these workshops encourage students to include one another in order to ensure that the members of our community, whether that be BCA, Bergen County, or the greater American community, feel included and cared for.

Are there any new plans for the workshops or possible additions for next year?

Hopefully next year, we’ll be joined by even more speakers and organizations. Also, what we can continue to do, is keep our eyes and ears open to what the student body needs and wants. IDA is not about the Diversity Alliance arbitrarily creating workshops; it’s about catering to what BCA students are interested in. We, the Diversity Alliance, periodically tap into the needs of students via survey and students reaching out to their friends. I know that in my classes, I often check in with my students to get their feedback on certain workshops and initiatives that we have taken as a school, to make sure that this day revolves around what the students want. And that’s part of the beauty of the Diversity Alliance. It’s a living, breathing body!

Be sure to fill out the survey that Mrs. Blake sent out, so that we, as students, can continue to improve IDA!

Lastly, is there a message that you would like to share with students about coexisting with and accepting each other?

I just hope that IDA promotes an environment of open communication where students and staff are able to feel free in sharing their perspectives, asking questions, and talking to people that share different perspectives. Through these workshops, we can be part of a solution for what unfortunately is a nation that is often very divided on such topics. We can start small. Often students will ask what they can do to engage in the American community or to participate democratically. However, being an American doesn’t only entail serving jury duty or voting. It is important to just talk, and truly listen, to somebody with a different opinion, and to offer them respect and acceptance. That’s what we can do to solve the tension that exists on a greater level in our nation today.

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IDA Workshops: Interview With Mrs. Blake