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Doing What's Right

Local elementary schools participate in Ethics Day at the McLean Community Center.

Lincoln Scott is no stranger to discrimination.

"Two years ago at my school I was the only black kid in the fourth grade, and the other kids teased me about it," said Scott, a sixth grade student at Timberlane Elementary School. "But they don't tease me anymore."

Elizabeth Frazee, an Ethics Day table leader, asked Scott if he thought his fellow classmates had really meant some of the hurtful things they had said to him. Scott paused for a second before answering.

"I think they really did," he said.

Sixth Grade Ethics Day is a program that has been going on for two years. Sponsored by the Safe Community Coalition (SCC) and West*Group, the day-long exercise is held at the McLean Community Center, and includes sixth grade students from elementary schools in McLean and Great Falls. There have been three so far this year, and different elementary schools participated in each one.

"McLean High School started Ethics Day 12 years ago, and they had it every year for their seniors, so that's where the idea came from," said Ron Axelrod, organizer and session leader for last Thursday's Ethics Day. "Our goal is to get kids to think of things in an ethical way."

On Jan. 26, approximately 240 students from Timberlane, Kent Gardens and Franklin Sherman Elementary Schools gathered at the McLean Community Center to participate in Ethics Day. After a brief introduction, the students broke down into groups and participated in various "ethical decision-making scenarios" that focused on such topics as bullying, diversity, vandalism and cyber issues.

In his introductory remarks, Axelrod told the students that as they went through the exercises of the day, "I'd like you to think about what you should do, because ultimately that is the ethical thing to do."

"We are going to talk in three large groups about issues that you as sixth graders have confronted, are confronting or certainly will confront in the future," said Axelrod.

ONCE BROKEN DOWN into groups, the students and table leaders discussed what it means to discriminate, and what is meant by prejudice.

"Prejudice is when you just judge someone because of their race and discrimination is when you leave someone out because of their race," said Nadeem Bohsali, a sixth grade student at Kent Gardens.

Axelrod pointed out that both prejudice and discrimination can be either positive or negative "even though we tend to think of them in a negative light."

At their tables students discussed times in their life when they had either been victims of, or witnesses to, discrimination.

"When I was still at Franklin Sherman I was in the second grade but I was younger than everyone," said Bohsali. "I was unprepared and I got a lot of the answers wrong, so people would laugh at me and make fun of me."

Bohsali explained that his parents resolved the problem by letting him repeat the second grade so that he would be at the same age and education level as his peers.

"So that was something that your parents could help you resolve," said table leader Elizabeth Frazee. "But what do you do when people discriminate against you something that you can't control, like the color of your skin?"

Sandy Yang, a sixth grade student at Franklin Sherman could relate to that feeling.

"Some people made fun of me saying 'you're Asian,'" she said, adding that it made her "feel sad."

Cameron McLaughlin, another sixth grade student at Franklin Sherman, said he had seen discrimination happen in front of him.

"There was this handicapped kid and the other kids wouldn't let him play," said McLaughlin.

After these discussions, the students were given various scenarios, and spent time in their groups considering different ways to handle situations that required ethical decision-making.

"We don't try to pretend that we are going to change kids into ethical people today, but we are at least putting the idea of ethics on the radar, and we are reinforcing what their parents are doing," said Axelrod. "That's why most of our table leaders are parents and teachers."