John Purcell/Recorder staff Amsterdam High School health teacher Phillip Parillo, who serves as co-advisor of the National Coalition Building Institute group, talks to a group of juniors Wednesday during Diversity Day.

By JOHN PURCELL

Recorder News Staff

Issues surrounding racial and ethnic differences may not be an easy topic for most people to discuss, but Amsterdam High School leaders hoped to spur such conversations amongst students through a new initiative aiming to embrace differences.

Amsterdam High School held its inaugural Diversity Day on Wednesday, with an interactive assembly in the Bert DeRose Theater where students responded to questions from health teacher Phillip Parillo. Students were then broken into smaller groups for discussions with their peers about diversity. Later students discussed additional questions during seventh period.

Parillo and Chris Riccio, a social worker at the high school, organized the event with National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) student leaders. The NCBI group at the school, which Parillo and Riccio serve as the advisors, has been holding smaller workshops with students to discuss issues surrounding diversity.

“It’s not the easiest thing to get into groups and talk about stuff like this,” Parillo told junior students during their assembly. “I don’t think we’re trying to change everything right now. We’re just trying to plant a little seed.”

Parillo said many students were engaged even if they were a little hesitant at times to talk about issues surrounding race and equality.

“With all the political vibes going on, I think there’s a little bit of hesitancy because some people get ridiculed for believing a certain way,” Parillo said.

School leaders are hoping to hold a Diversity Day annually, but Parillo said in future years it would likely be held closer to the beginning of the school year. Then the smaller workshops through NCBI would continue to be held throughout a school year. The hope is students will become interested in NCBI by participating in Diversity Day, according to Parillo.

Senior student Tazdyn Francisco, who is an NCBI leader, said she participated in one of the group workshops during her freashman year and really enjoyed it. She continued to be involved with the NCBI program after her initial experience.

Francisco believed she could see a difference in most students after their Diversity Day assembly concluded.

“I feel like they at least take in what we’re saying,” Francisco said about fellow students. “I think it’s a really powerful thing, because I think high school students definitely tend to be more stereotypical.”

While Francisco believed the smaller workshops might be more effective, she said the assembly helps students become aware of NCBI and hopefully it spurs interest in participating.

Fellow senior and NCBI student leader Angela Gonputh said after each workshop she’s learned something new and has enjoyed the experience.

High School Principal Patrick Corrigan said the idea to hold a Diversity Day was spurred during a faculty meeting earlier this school year after a discussion about the sources of conflict in the building.

Corrigan said the NCBI workshops gathers about 20 students at a time and has allowed for frank and honest discussions about differences. He said the assemblies during Diversity Day were an effort to have similar conversations with more than 20 students at a time.

“This is not going to be people standing up here and talking to you,” Corrigan told the juniors. “The expectation is you’re going to have some interaction and that you’re going to have an opportunity to provide some feedback. We want you to engage with this topic, because we feel that it’s important for your well-being as adults and for the well-being of this building and the community that it serves.”

Corrigan said students generally appeared to be engaging at their own comfort level, which was the hope in holding assemblies for each grade level.

“One student may be speaking a lot and another student may be speaking much less, but that’s based on their comfort level and that’s what we have to allow for,” Corrigan said.

One question students tackled while in groups was when they first became aware of racial or ethnic differences and what made them notice the differences.

Parillo told the group that differences became apparent to him when went to pre-school, along with watching sports on television. Sports also played a role in one of the most memorable moments from his childhood surrounding racial differences.

When Parillo was around 4 to 5 years old, he and his brother shaved their heads because they wanted to be like Michael Jordan. After the haircut someone told him, “You look like a little black boy.”