Berlin Elementary Schools Using AJC Democracy Program

Apr 15, 2013, 10:58 ET from American Jewish Committee

BERLIN, April 15, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AJC's innovative core values curriculum, "Hands for Kids," is now available to all 400 elementary schools in Berlin. The initiative was announced today by Berlin State Secretary Sigrid Klebba and AJC Berlin Director Deidre Berger. More than 350 students and teachers attended the annual "Hands" Children's Conference in Berlin, where the announcement was made.

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"The Berlin government is committed to the importance of learning the basics of democracy and we want everyone to be involved," said Klebba. "The 'Hands for Kids' program is attractively produced and can certainly be an impetus for schools to deal with issues of democracy and participation."

The curriculum promotes core democratic values of equality, respect, fairness and tolerance. It was piloted in several dozen schools in Berlin and Brandenburg.  The popularity of the program prompted the Berlin state government to print copies of the curriculum for all Berlin elementary schools.

"When, if not in their earliest years, should children learn basic concepts of respect and tolerance?" asked Berger. "Starting early is the best way to counter anti-Semitism, xenophobia and extremism."

"Hands for Kids" was developed jointly by AJC Berlin, the German Society for Democratic Education (DGD), the Berlin State Institute for Education and Media (LISUM), the Brandenburg Regional Working Group on Education, Integration and Democracy (RAA), and the Berlin Ministry for Education, Youth and Science. Additional funding was provided by the German Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth.

The program deepens understanding of community by promoting the use of class councils as early as first grade to teach children the basics of verbal expression, respectful dialogue and problem-solving. The curriculum provides detailed information about class councils, service projects and peer work that help foster basic group, leadership, and social skills. Chapters on children's rights help pupils develop empathy for the lives of others, and provide tools for social engagement.

"We developed this program with German partners to help children understand their rights, embrace core values and gain exposure to democratic decision-making models," said Berger.  "The success of 'Hands for Kids' demonstrates that children can grasp basic concepts of mediation, conflict resolution and consensus in their early school years, creating a positive school environment that sparks creativity and helps defuse conflicts."

The "Hands for Kids" program is based on principles in AJC's pioneering "Hands Across the Campus" core values curriculum, developed in the 1980s in response to ethnic conflicts in the Los Angeles school system.

After a surge of right-wing extremism in Germany in 2000, AJC Berlin began working with German government officials and educators to create model curriculum to promote core democracy values.  The 2006 German version of "Hands Across the Campus" was developed with funding from the Ford Foundation and the German federal government.  A second edition was issued in 2011.

"Hands for Kids," the first core values curriculum for German elementary-school pupils, was first published in 2011. In addition, AJC, LISUM and the Berlin state government published "Active Against Antisemitism," a handbook for junior-high and high-school students from migrant backgrounds that fosters understanding of Judaism, the Holocaust and the Middle East.

AJC, the global advocacy organization, was the first American Jewish group to open a permanent office in Berlin, following decades of growing engagement with German officials, civil society and the Jewish community. Since the 1998 opening in Berlin of AJC's Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations, AJC has become a leading partner on transatlantic relations, Mideast affairs and the promotion of democracy and human rights.

SOURCE American Jewish Committee