BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Public School's Social Studies Department held two round table discussion on the largest civil unrest movement in several generations. On June 9, the department hosted an event for GLHS students, while on June 16 there was a separate event for CMS students. Each event was driven by student submitted questions that were fielded by district Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley, Berkeley Heights Chief of Police John DiPasquale, the respective building Principals Rob Nixon and Frank Geiger, and Social Studies Department Supervisor Steve Hopkins.
Student’s submitted over 80 questions that ranged over a variety of topics. Student questions concerning district and building actions surrounding issues of diversity and inequality were answered by Dr. Varley and the building principals, questions concerning the training and practices of BHPD and general law enforcement questions were handled by Chief DiPasquale, and broader questions of social and historical context where discussed by Steve Hopkins. Both sessions were well over an hour in length and provided students with an opportunity to ask follow-up questions after each topic area.
“It was great to see nearly one hundred students and staff give up their own time to attend the roundtables,” said Dr. Varley. “It reinforces our need to keep having these discussions.” She continued, “The students asked really insightful questions, I was very proud of them.”
Chief John DiPasquale emphasized in his remarks the importance of maintaining a positive and close relationship with both the school district and the students. The Chief was clear in his condemnation of tactics like those that lead to the death of George Floyd, praised the recent town march supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement, and was detailed and informative in answering student procedural and legal questions.
“This was a great start in opening up the conversation of how the school can play a more active role in the education of diversity,” said senior Tamar Novik. “It was an open and productive discussion. While I cannot speak on behalf of other students, I felt heard and respected.”
Junior Mackenzie Pierce agreed, “I found that this discussion was one that was extremely important for the future of our school and town.” She continued, “By having a discussion that encompassed a majority of current events and included a variety of students and faculty, it allowed them to share their thoughts and ideas on how to make the school a more accepting place.”
“I found that the round table discussion was extremely helpful,” said eighth grader Paola Mauriello. “It was especially appreciated that all students at Columbia were given the opportunity to voice our questions and concerns.” She continued, “It would be extremely helpful if students could get advice on what we can do at school to address and contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“Many students have expressed a desire to continue this conversation about diversity and equality,” said Dr. Varley. “The district mission is enshrined in its motto: Include, Inspire, Empower. We are committed to continuing these difficult conversations on systemic injustice, so that we can meet the needs of all of our students so that everyone feels safe, accepted, and included.”