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On Thursday, September 29, 2016, Beyond Differences and Islamic Networks Group (ING) launched Know Your Classmates, a national program designed to empower youth to break down barriers around cultural differences to build inclusive communities within schools. The two nonprofit organizations created curriculum for Know Your Classmates and designated October 21 Know Your Classmates Day. The curriculum includes in-class exercises to address Islamophobia, which is leading to social isolation and bullying of Muslim students.
The idea to create a curriculum like Know Your Classmates grew from the national ING-led Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters program, which was launched at the White House late last year.
Speaking at the press conference were San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee; San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón; Matt Haney, president of the San Francisco Unified School District Board; Maha Elgenaidi, founder of ING, a nonprofit whose mission is to counter prejudice and discrimination against Muslims living in the U.S. by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity; Laura Talmus, founder of Beyond Differences, a nonprofit whose mission is to empower youth to end social isolation and make schools more inclusive; and Hala Hijazi, chair of SF Mayor Lee’s and District Attorney Gascón’s AMEMSA Committees; and Beyond Differences student leaders and Muslim students.
“When hate occurs against any one group or population of kids, it impacts everybody in the school and in the classroom, because then you have an environment of hate,” Islamic Networks Group CEO Maha Elgenaidi told NBC News.
“According to Maha Elgenaidi of the Islamic Networks Group, one of two nonprofits that created the curriculum for schools nationwide, Islamophobia is increasing in the nation. A majority of Americans are unsure of Muslims or have negative views of Islam, she said. “This [Islamophobia] is going to have an impact on the school environment,” said Elgenaidi. “Teachers, administrators, school staff are susceptible to the same information that other Americans are too about this religion.”
Local television news segments:
KTSF26, a Chinese-language news channel based in the Bay Area, presented this segment on the “Know Your Classmates” initiative.