HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ -- Lincoln School hosted a special assembly on Tuesday to celebrate the different cultures and backgrounds of students in the school. Celebrate Diversity Empathy Challenge featured live DJs and an NBA star in a new approach to acceptance and anti-bullying.

This is the second time the organization, Go Create It, presented an assembly at Lincoln School. Before Christmas break, it hosted a math assembly.

“This school is awesome, which is why we wanted to do it here as well,” said Peter Karl Youngren, president and CEO of Go Create It.

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The event was run by Youngren, who goes by ‘PK,’ to the students.  The non-profit offers student outreach programs and a “commitment to encourage, educate and empower young people by igniting their passion for learning through the creation process,” according to its website.

“First and foremost, recognizing the importance of acceptance and respect as well as understanding that each individual is unique and special is paramount for us at Lincoln School,” said Joseph Colangelo, Lincoln School principal. “Peter Karl Youngren believes in, and supported those values at his Empathy Challenge Assembly. New York Knicks power forward, Noah Vonleh, and the sponsors in attendance were all there to champion this cause.”

The assembly taught the students to understand, appreciate,and respect the diversity within their own school. To demonstrate the issue, Youngren asked the audience of third, fourth and fifth graders their understanding of diversity and an immigrant. He quickly surveyed the youngsters, asking who had been born outside the United States. Over one dozen hands went up. Some of the students were from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia. PK said even he was an immigrant because he was from Canada.

After defining and discussing diversity and immigrants, Youngren introduced the special guest for the assembly, Noah Vonleh from the New York Knicks. He discussed his childhood, playing basketball through high school and college and being drafted. He was a first round selection for the Charlotte Hornets, after playing only one year with Indiana University. 

Students had several chances to ask questions. One student asked him to dunk, which the power forward obliged, to the students’ cheers. Two interactive sessions required students to get up and meet a new friend, someone they didn’t know, and then find out who their favorite person was and what they wanted to be when they grew up.

The final portion of the assembly reviewed The Code, five mantras to show acceptance and respect for their classmates. These include,

  • Always Show Respect
  • Protect Each Other
  • Listen to Authority Figures
  • Do Your Best
  • Be Yourself

Each classroom also received a large poster of The Code, which students would sign as their agreement and daily reminder.

“The kids really did love him, they really loved it, and I feel that it sends out a really good message about diversity,” said Vicki DePalma, Lincoln School teacher and event coordinator. “And it’s good for them to see it (diversity) in another way. I hope that they can really see everyone is different and that they have to accept that.”

The program was offered at no cost to the school and PTA, and was underwritten by financial sponsorships from local businesses. For the Hasbrouck Heights event, the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, Mazda of Lodi, BCB Bank, and Bergen County Sheriff's Department contributed. Radio station X 96.3 New York provided musical entertainment through the assembly.

“It’s an empathy challenge, and it’s anti-bullying,” said Jennie Porfido, Lincoln School PTA vice president. “I just hope they apply it to their everyday lives, and how they deal with students through the day, and every day.”

“The presentation was great, the energy was great, the message and experience was greater,” said Colangelo.


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