Each year, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) conducts its Magna Awards program, a national recognition program that honors school board best practices and innovative programs that advance student learning. A panel of independent judges reviews programs for qualities such as school district leadership, creativity and commitment to student achievement.

The nominations, which are open to any school district in the country, are judged in three enrollment categories: under 5,000 students; 5,000-20,000 students and more than 20,000 students. In each category there is one grand prize winner, five additional “first place” winners, and five more “honorable mention” winners.

In 2016, two New Jersey school districts were recognized by the NSBA Magna Awards with first place awards. Hanover Park Regional High School District in East Hanover was honored for its “Gallery Walk” program in the “Under 5,000” category; while Piscataway Township Schools was recognized in the 5,000-20,000 enrollment category for its ESL program. This issue will feature a closer look at the Hanover Park Regional program; the next issue of School Leader will look at the Piscataway program.

Hanover Park: Gallery Walk The Hanover Park Regional High School District, which encompasses two high schools, Hanover Park and Whippany Park, has a Genocide Studies program. Every year students in the classes in both schools collaborate to develop a “Gallery Walk” that focuses on various genocides through history and the acts of violence and hatred associated with them. Student work is arranged and positioned throughout a wing of the building (the campuses alternate hosting the event each year). The audience begins the walk by entering the building under a replica of the Auschwitz “Arbeit macht frei” (which translates as “work sets you free”) gate, and continues by weaving in and out of classrooms dedicated to various genocides, and ends in the theater with a closing performance.

A capstone to the genocide studies gallery walk program has been a presentation by Holocaust survivor, Maud Dahme, a former long-term State Board of Education member, former local school board member in Hunterdon County and recipient of NJSBA’s lifetime education achievement award. She speaks about her experiences as “The Hidden Child” during World War II. Dahme, one of an estimated 5,000 Jewish children hidden from the Nazis by Christian families in the Netherlands, was the subject of a PBS documentary on her experiences.

The Gallery Walk is open to students during the day, and community members in the evening.

Student participation in the Gallery Walk raises civic awareness. They develop compassion for people suffering throughout the world where current conflicts are ravaging specific populations.

The program has had a widespread impact, fostering respect for other cultures and their past, and it has reconnected many students with their own family history. It has also sparked cross-curricular discussions and activities within the school, and has helped inspire other student-generated service learning.

The program is also featured on the NJSBA website under the A+ Ideas, Programs and Practices page at staging.njsba.org/news-information/a-ideas-programs-and-practices/.