Haddonfield School District continues diversity initiatives with ‘Zootopia’ screening

Animated film to provide point of reference for grade-schoolers about stereotypes, prejudice

On Wednesday, Feb. 20, principals from all three Haddonfield elementary schools will jointly host a presentation of the animated Disney movie “Zootopia” at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Haddonfield Middle School.

The movie screening will be followed by discussion with parents and students dealing with the subjects of stereotypes, prejudice and change.

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“Zootopia” is a 2016 film set in a world of human-like animals, centered around the interactions between police officers who happen to be a rabbit and fox, as they deal with everyday life and crime inside their city.

It is one of a continuing series of events the district has planned across all five of its schools, aimed at improving communication and fostering understanding among youth and adults in the borough and beyond.

“The screening of ‘Zootopia’ is a continuation of a long-standing commitment in the Haddonfield School District to implement diversity initiatives,” said Central Elementary Principal Shannon Simkus. “In fact, we hosted a showing of ‘Wonder’ for grades four and five last spring. Students and families made wonderful connections to the movie and demonstrated how we are committed to creating an inclusive environment in our school and town.”

“Wonder,” which was released in late 2017, tells the story of a 10-year-old boy in New York City who was born with facial deformities, who, after a period of homeschooling, has to navigate a trickier environment at a local prep school.

A newsletter penned by Superintendent Larry Mussoline for January, included a significant section dedicated to inclusivity and stated the following:

“Haddonfield School District has always endeavored to be a safe and welcoming environment, but since September, we have made a much more concentrated and intentional effort to embrace diversity and to foster global competence. ‘Global competence’ is the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to thrive in a diverse, interconnected world.

“The framework we are working on for global competence all coalesce around key concepts of empathy, valuing multiple perspectives, appreciating diversity, critical thinking, problem-solving, an understanding of global conditions, events, interconnectedness and cross-cultural communication and collaboration.

“The process began in the spring of 2018 when all high school students took a survey on the topics of school climate, diversity and acceptance. Results were used to gather data and drive future initiatives.

“During the summer of 2018, Board President Adam Sangillo, Dr. Mussoline and Assistant Superintendent Chuck Klaus met with Dr. Shelley Zion from the Center for Access, Success and Equity (CASE) at Rowan University, individuals from the University of Pennsylvania’s Excellence and Equity Consortia and its Racial Empowerment Collaborative to determine which group would best serve all five of our schools during the 2018–19 school year. The group we contracted with was Dr. Zion’s CASE group.

“At various times during 2018, high school administrators met with representatives of the

NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the ADL (Anti-

Defamation League), the Office of Student Conduct at the University of Pennsylvania and

CASE. In the spring of 2018, the NAACP made a presentation to the high school staff, and in the fall Dr. Zion made presentations to the entire district staff.”

Valerie Cline, principal of Tatem Elementary School, recalled that the film on tap for Feb. 20 was one of a small list of movies Zion recommended for the purpose of discussing diversity and inclusion with elementary-level students.

“Since we were familiar with and enjoyed seeing ‘Zootopia’ when it was first in theaters, and we felt we could capitalize on the underlying message it gives to children, the elementary principals decided to move forward with the special viewing and discussion of this particular film,” she said.

“We look forward to inspiring our students and families at this special event using a popular film to create discussion around inclusion, acceptance of differences and stereotypes,” added Elizabeth Haddon Elementary principal Gerry Bissinger.

In the upcoming February edition of the newsletter, Mussoline plans to describe diversity initiatives in greater detail for the high school, followed by the middle school and finally the elementary schools.

BOB HERPEN
BOB HERPEN
Former radio broadcaster, hockey writer, Current: main beat reporter for Haddonfield, Cherry Hill and points beyond.
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