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City honors RFK with program on social justice in public schools

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Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy will now be preserved with a new curriculum promoting social justice in classrooms throughout the state, the late New York senator’s daughter and city leaders announced Tuesday at the high school in Flushing that bears his name.

Kerry Kennedy, the former New York senator’s daughter; education leaders; and local legislators announced Tuesday in Flushing.

“It’s important to learn what Robert Kennedy did, but the main story of his life is each one of us can make a difference,” Kerry Kennedy said in remarks at Robert F. Kennedy Community HS.

Kennedy told dozens of junior and senior high school students they could prove instrumental in helping society to surmount the barriers of poverty and racism that her father fought against and which still plague American society.

The new curriculum, created last summer and passed out to 20,000 school teachers in November, allows education officials to incorporate lessons about Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated while running for president in 1968, into fourth−, eighth− and 11th−grade classes.

Lesson plans would focus on human rights issues and would highlight such topics as racism. Students would, for example, be asked to identify the historical events surrounding desegregation. As part of the curriculum, high school juniors would compare poverty in 1968 to poverty in 2008.

“Anyone who knew and followed the career of Robert F. Kennedy knew he was a champion of equal and civil rights,” said city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “He said, ‘There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask, “Why”? I dream of things that never were, and ask, ‘Why not?’ In that phrase, he conjured up a world where skin color, family income and ZIP code do not matter.”

At Tuesday’s event, which was also attended by Richard Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American, and the United Federation of Teachers, students said they believed the new lessons would inspire teenagers to create change in the world.

“It makes me really hopeful for the future,” said Chazz Bruce, a senior at the high school. “It’s really admirable what Robert Kennedy did, and I really think it will make a difference for the future that we’re going to include him in our curriculum.”

Lisa Byheny, a social studies teacher at the high school, was one of some 12 teachers from throughout the state who helped to craft the lessons. She said her students were looking forward to addressing social justice issues.

“They’ve already been involved civically and have written letters to President−elect Barack Obama about things they’d like to see changed,” Byheny said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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