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Building Social Justice at International School Haarlem

Social Justice is an issue that affects everyone and here at International School Haarlem (ISH) we are keen to ensure that students gain an understanding of a diverse range of social justice issues so that they mature into adults who challenge the system, develop empathy and compassion and an understanding that ‘learning to unlearn’ can make a positive difference to them and their community. 

By Clare Peterkin, Inclusion Manager at International School Haarlem

Building Social Justice Days (BSJ days) are now commonplace at ISH. They occur three times a year across our primary and secondary departments and involve students being off timetable and choosing workshops related to a different social justice theme each time.  

So far, the topics we have covered are: Black Lives Matter, refugees and asylum seekers, the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, the climate crisis and the inequalities women face.  Our most recent BSJ day held in March 2023 was entitled ‘Neurodiversity: Changing the Narrative’.

Each BSJ day follows a similar format with outside agencies coming to school to lead workshops related to the topic, staff leading workshops and more increasingly, student-led workshops. 

Neurodiversity: Changing the Narrative

During our neurodiversity themed BSJ day, we had people from the anxiety charity, ADF stichting, come to talk with the students about their own lived experiences.  We also had students from the neurodiverse community share their perspectives about how their neurodiversity affected them, the positives they have in their lives because of their neurodiversity and how others around them can support them better.  Students report that they find talking with people with lived experiences from within the social justice theme means that they gain more insight and understanding on the topic.  For example, one student commented that ‘Neurodiversity is a topic unlike LGBTQ+ or women’s rights that I think a lot of people lack understanding and knowledge about so it was great to learn about it.’ 

Another of our main objectives of the BSJ days is to allow students to become a better ally.  Too often adults and students alike feel that donating money to charity is the only way to show support, whilst this is true, this is not the whole picture.  At the end of every BSJ day, there is a reflection session, where students (and adults) are encouraged to reflect on what they have learned during the day and how this has challenged their stereotypes and assumptions. They think about how they can learn to ‘unlearn’ and reflect on small actions they can take to be a better ally.  Examples that students have shared relating to how this BSJ day helped them to unlearn are: 

  • ‘I should use the correct terminology and keep everyone in mind to be more inclusive.’ 
  • ‘I should speak up and ask if people are ok, I need to try and make sure that I am friendly towards anyone part of community and give them the space and help they need.’ 
  • Students choose to show their reflections, an example of some of their work is shared in the photograph.

Changing the mindset

As a school we are continually trying to improve the BSJ days and to give a voice to people who sometimes don’t get their story heard.  We can see a positive impact these days have when students talk with passion and enthusiasm about social justice topics that hit the news and we are slowly beginning to change the mindset and encourage our students to take actions on individual, local and global levels.  

If you would like to have more information or like to be involved in a future BSJ day, please don’t hesitate to contact Clare Peterkin.

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