Home > Education > Empathy in Action: Students Explore Tolerance Through Potatoes at Heritage Intermediate School

Empathy in Action: Students Explore Tolerance Through Potatoes at Heritage Intermediate School

Fontana, CA

On Mar. 7 Inland Valley News, with support from California Black Media, the Urban Business Journal and the California State Library, took their “Stop the Hate, Spread the Love” campaign to Heritage Intermediate School in Fontana.

The program’s purpose is to educate students throughout various communities about tolerance and understanding.

The presenters, Inland Valley News Publisher Ta Lese Morrow and Founder and CEO of Urban Philanthropy Network, Inc. Kim Anthony-Morrow, took their presentation to three different leadership elective classes at Heritage Intermediate School, starting with the eighth grade and ending with the sixth grade.

“The presentation was good, especially because it was more activity-based and less lecture-based,” said LaTawyna Robinson, who teaches the eighth grade leadership class as well as English and history.

Each class began with an ice breaker where students introduced themselves as people they admire.

The air was electric as students laughed with each other and learned about each other’s values through their heroes.

Seventh grade leadership teacher Carlee Heinecke said that this activity brought the students together.

“We were able to see them interact with students they normally wouldn’t in a very positive way,” said Heinecke.

After the ice breaker, the main activity involved a game in which each leadership student received a potato which they named and developed brief backstories for the spud.

The purpose of the exercise was to encourage the students to use their imagination to put themselves in other people’s shoes and practice empathy.

While some students joked about the snacks they received, others spoke about how they felt about hate and intolerance.

One eighth grader asserted that hate comes from the pain that accompanies the human experience.

A sixth grader said that people sometimes use hate “as a coping mechanism” to deal with this pain.

“Sometimes we have a hard time being kind because of the struggles we are dealing with,” said one seventh grade student.

The teachers said that they were “awestruck” by some of the students’ contributions to the discussion on tolerance.

“Even though I work with them every day, I’m like, ‘oh there’s a little bit more depth in there,’” said Robinson. “So I was really impressed with that.”

Part of the activity involved coming up with reasons that the potato characters they invented had bumps and bruises on them.

“The kids that were super engaged got the idea that people are going to have those scars and bruises and then it’s about learning who they are on the inside. That takes time and that takes kindness,” said Heinecke.

The leadership teachers mentioned some of the problems they’ve seen students face on campus in relation to intolerance.

“This year has been a little tougher as far as how the students interact with each other,” said Heinecke.

Robinson echoed Heinecke’s observation, saying that students who are openly gay or transgender have faced unique challenges.

She told Inland Valley News that it is her job to educate and accommodate these students, saying that “It’s our place to make them feel comfortable and safe.”

She approaches her curriculum with that goal in mind.

“Because I teach U.S. history, a lot of the conversations of tolerance come up,” said Robinson. “For me, if someone says something inappropriate, I’m going to address it on the spot. Or if we’re talking about some sort of event in history, and a group has been marginalized, we’re going to talk about it in real time and relate it to current times.”

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