Hands Across the Campus

In the summer of 2000, The American Jewish Committee expressed concern to German government officials about a worrisome increase in the number of right-wing racist and anti-Semitic attacks in Germany. 

During a meeting in New York with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in mid-September, the AJC offered its experience to help German authorities develop tolerance education programs to combat manifestations of hatred and racism, especially among German youth. AJC noted that its “Hands Across the Campus” curriculum, a values education and youth leadership program that AJC has instituted at dozens of American schools the past two decades, might be adaptable for use in German schools.

Subsequent to the meeting with Chancellor Schroeder, the German government-sponsored Bündnis für Demokratie und Toleranz (Alliance for Democracy and Tolerance) organized a round-table discussion with educators and government officials to discuss the feasibility of such an adaptation.

The participants expressed great interest in the “Hands” program, despite the obvious work necessary to change some of the content to fit the German cultural and historical context. A steering group of educators to work on the adaptation of “Hands” was created, with the assistance of Ulrich Dovermann at the Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung. The group decided to focus in the next few months on translation of the material (which the Bundeszentrale agreed to fund), pedagogical evaluations of the program by students at the University of Paderborn, and trial runs of the program.

In November, 2001, a seminar at the University of Paderborn on tolerance education and the adaptation of the Hands program began. During the course of the year, approximately 40 students formed eight working groups, with each group examining a different chapter of the program. At the finish of the academic year, two of the groups had completely reworked chapters with material appropriate for German students, while other groups are in various stages of completion of the project.

Due to a lack of funding, adaptation efforts by the University of Paderborn could not continue in the academic year 2002-2003. As a result, a group of Berlin high school teachers who work for Standpunkte (Standpoint – Teachers Against Racism) have taken over coordination of the adaptation effort. They have set up a working group to continue the adaptation of material that was begun by students at the University of Paderborn. Educational experts at the University of Paderborn, as well as other members of the “Hands” steering group, will continue to act as advisors for the project. 

The Bundeszentrale fuer Politische Bildung (The Federal Office for Civic Education) continues to take an active interest in the adaptation of “Hands.” In addition, Standpunkte is seeking additional funding sources in order to start a pilot program in schools, together with an internal evaluation process to monitor the success of using the program in German classes.  If funding is secured, Standpunkt is planning to launch trial runs of the “Hands” program in three Berlin schools in the fall of 2003.  A variety of high schools will be invited to compete for selection as a “Hands” school.  The following year, the program will be expanded to additional schools in Berlin.  Standpunkte will also try and create community support in local districts for the “Hands” program to maximize the impact of the program on both a school and the surrounding community. The American Jewish Committee will continue to guide the development of the German adaptation project.

Initially, three schools implemented the program during the 2003/2004 school year. The initial phase was largely conducted by implementing and adapting the original American curriculum. In the 2005/2006 school year, a second step involved intensive teacher training to lay the cornerstone for further expansion of the program to a dozen schools in Berlin and six schools in Brandenburg.

In the course of the intensified implementation of Hands Across the Campus increased interest had been expressed in the development of a Hands for Kids program in the elementary schools. AJC took the responsibility to write such a program from scratch. After its publication with generous support from the Berlin Senate, the program has been a tremendous success in the Berlin school landscape. After its first implementation in the year 2009 and its ongoing evaluation and further development in conjunction with education experts from various civic institutions and governmental administration, Hands for Kids has reached dozens of elementary schools in Germany’s capital.

The Hands for Kids curriculum for elementary schools teaches children the importance of cooperation and tolerance as they are beginning to develop a sense of personal and civic identity.Hands for Kids centers on issues children face every day, beginning with cooperation and conflict in the local school and community, and branching out to global concerns of children’s rights and children in the media. Children discuss feelings, friendships and responsibilities for one another, learning to articulate their opinions and respectfully exchange ideas with their classmates.  Action-oriented lessons develop children’s social, moral and democratic competencies.  The curriculum includes five units:  “Identity,” “Kid Power,” “Fit for Democracy,” “Children Have Rights” and “Global Kids.”

Hands for Kids also strengthens school communities, uniting students, parents, teachers and administrators around common goals.  Annual children’s conferences like the 4th conference held this year on April 15, bring together students from different schools to participate in interactive activities.