Santa Fe Springs Diversity Summits Teach Tolerance and Respect
The City of Santa Fe Springs won the Grand Prize for this project in the Ruth Vreeland Award for Engaging Youth in City Government category of the 2007 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information about the award program, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.
In 1991, high-school students in Santa Fe Springs watched the events unfold around the arrest and beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. When the acquittals of the police officers involved sparked riots in L.A. the following year, the students approached their teachers and community leaders and asked, “How can we prevent something like this from happening in our city?” Their concern spurred the creation of a program that focuses on diversity and tolerance.
The City of Santa Fe Springs’ Student Community Diversity Program is a component of the city’s Family and Youth Intervention Program (FYIP). The city has a policy of tolerance and anti-bias, and the FYIP helps implement the policy. The FYIP’s mission is to use multidisciplinary intervention strategies to positively engage youth between the ages of 7 and 14 who are exhibiting high-risk behaviors. The FYIP’s partners include the city’s Police Department, Planning Department, Los Angeles County Probation, Whittier Police Department and community nonprofit groups.
Diversity Summit Puts Values Into Action
The diversity program includes the Student Community Diversity Summit. Its goal is to reinforce respectful and healthy behaviors that enable youth to build tolerant interpersonal relationships. The program examines how intolerance impedes physical, social and personal growth and exacerbates conflict.
Santa Fe Springs has conducted Student Community Diversity Summits for the past 17 years to develop greater tolerance for and sensitivity to cultural, ethnic, age and social diversity. The summits are the result of the city’s policy, which translates into messages about the value of tolerance, respect for family diversity, inclusion and advocacy for children and youth. More than 30 faculty, 20 staff members and 20 community volunteers help facilitate the summit discussion groups.
Each summit is an all-day, off-campus event that includes educational presentations, interactive discussions and workshops followed by the development of action plans for the community, school and students. The action plans prepare students, faculty and community leaders to collaborate on and address any changes recommended during the summit. City staff, school officials and community leaders collaboratively monitor the action plans for implementation and outcomes during the year and evaluate progress at subsequent summits.
Collaboration Is a Key Component
The city collaborates with several partners on the diversity summits, including three school districts, three high schools, four middle schools and five elementary schools; the local chamber of commerce; representatives from each of the city’s six departments; student body diversity clubs; the local community college; and representatives from nonprofit groups serving area residents. These partners form the city’s Interagency Juvenile Task Force, and the Diversity Program is a standing agenda item. Each partner provides facilitators to lead group discussions at the day-long summits.
This program has educated more than 48,000 local public school children and 3,100 educators, community members and city staff.
Program Teaches Tolerance
The Student Community Diversity Program has achieved significant results. Police reports reveal the absence of any reported hate crimes in the city, and youth gang violence has virtually ceased.
An offshoot of the program, the School Safety Response Team, prepares school and city personnel to respond proactively to intolerance-related issues identified by administrative staff and faculty members.
As a result of encouragement from participating youth, the summits have expanded beyond the high-school level to include the city’s middle, elementary and preschools. The Student Community Diversity Program now also includes conflict management and resolution training for middle- and elementary-school students.
Local donations of money and time sustain the project and reflect the community’s support. Since 1993, a local business has sponsored yearly field trips to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance for more than 4,000 students and continues to do so anonymously. The project also benefits from the efforts of numerous volunteers, including the 70 professionals who facilitate the summit discussions.
The city and school districts have committed at least $1 million to the program over its life and expect to continue significant support for the program, which improves the quality of life for all residents.
Contact: Anthony Lopez, assistant to the director of community services; phone: (562) 944-8106; e-mail: email@example.com.