Panel helps students learn about faiths, people

December 11, 2016
The Republic

Students at Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School gained deeper, personalized knowledge about multiple religions during an Interfaith Panel event.

About 80 students from the World History and Civilization classes at New Tech attended the panel last month. The program is the culmination of recent learning done by students on various religions. Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were the four faiths represented this year, said Andrea Behling, a social studies teacher at New Tech.

“CSA has been doing this project in some capacity for a few years, and the idea came from a desire to educate our students about the different religions as well as to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of our community,” Behling said.

Students had the opportunity to ask questions about each faith from people who live their religion daily. Questions ranged in topic, from queries about growing up in a certain religion to hard-pressing questions, such as addressing high-school religious discrimination and the division within the nation, Behling said.

This year’s program took place during a time of increased bullying and intolerance reported at area schools. The panel’s intent was to create a positive, open atmosphere where different beliefs could be shared and discussed.

Tony McClendon, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s director of multicultural diversity, said in a letter to the editor to The Republic that he was proud of the event and the interest of the students.

“In this time of hate speech, inappropriate behavior directed at certain groups of students and people, in this period of racial and religious interposition, it is refreshing and encouraging to see positive programs, like this one, take place,” McClendon said in the letter.

Some students were surprised by how well members of the panel got along because they expected tension or even anger. Stacy Kramer, a freshman at CSA — New Tech, was impressed by their interactions and the level of respect they showed to one another.

“As we asked them questions, they started relating their religions to each other,” Kramer said. “They were all very open and showed that it is easy to get along if we just put in the effort.”

Feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive, Behling said.

The panel inspired curiosity, interest and understanding, rather than anger and distrust, for those who took part. The Interfaith Panel helped negate stereotypes, a lesson that became the biggest takeaway of the day for many, Behling added. Some of those stereotypes included: Muslims are terrorists, and Islam, Christianity and Judaism do not believe in the same God — Christ and Allah.

“One man said, ‘We fight ignorance with knowledge,’” Kramer said.

“Just because a Muslim may only eat certain meats, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t go home and play video games, isn’t on a sports team, (doesn’t) go to the grocery store, etc.” Aidan Cole, a freshman, said. “Everybody is similar in ways that you cannot even think of.”

Brooklyn Burbrink, a sophomore, called the experience one of the best she has ever had and recommends it to everyone.

Currently, only students, faculty and the panelists are involved, but it is a possibility that the panel could expand to include the community in the future, Behling said.