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5 NJ and PA Schools Selected as the First Cohort for Young Audiences’ Pilot Program of United We Create

Grants to provide arts education programming to promote cultural understanding and build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim students


PRINCETON, NJ; February 14, 2020— Young Audiences Arts for Learning NJ & Eastern PA
(YA), the region’s largest arts education non-profit is pleased to announce the five schools in NJ and PA that have been chosen to be part of the inaugural cohort for United We Create, which promotes cultural understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim students.

United We Create is an arts education program that aligns with character education, social studies world religion units, and anti-bullying curriculums. These innovative, arts-centered programs are entry points for schools to increase positive perceptions of Muslim identities and build connected communities. Students will explore the history and culture of a variety of Muslim-majority countries, while recognizing and uplifting Muslim traditions.

“At YA, we know that arts education is one of the most powerful ways to combat bullying,” Michele Russo, Young Audiences’ President & CEO shared. “When developing this program, we learned more about the prevalence of religious-based bullying of children of many faiths. The negative effects of bullying on children, like social isolation and negative self-perception, can continue into adulthood. In one of the most diverse areas of the country, we’re aware that schools face a challenge in meeting all the needs they face. United We Create offers a solution that brings creativity and artistry into the school. Our arts-based anti-bias activities are designed to build connections between students, encourage empathy and understanding, teach students that different does not equal bad, and help students develop positive perceptions of self and others.”

In this pilot year, the United We Create program, is free to five schools, with each school receiving arts education programs valued at $8,500. Students, teachers, and families participate through storytelling, song, drumming, and poetry to learn about Muslim cultures around the world. These arts-based programs will help to improve understanding of connections and shared values among different religions and cultures.

The 2019-2020 participating schools who received the grant are:

  • Eldridge Park Elementary (Lawrence Township, NJ)

  • US Wiggins College Preparatory Lab Family School (Camden, NJ)

  • KIPP Preparatory Academy (Philadelphia, PA)

  • Jay Cooke School (Philadelphia, PA)

  • Imhotep Charter High School (Philadelphia, PA)

Each pilot school will work with a cadre of YA professional teaching artists to implement:

  • 2 interactive assembly programs for the entire school

  • 8 in-class hands-on workshops

  • 2 professional learning opportunities for educators

  • 1 evening family/community art-making event

YA’s hope is that schools participating in the United We Create program will be able to:

  • Create emotional connections between students by using arts activities that encourage empathy and understanding, teach students that differences are to be celebrated, and help students develop positive perceptions of self and others.

  • Increase students’ knowledge about Muslim cultures using the lens of arts to explore folklore, ethos, and traditions.

  • Provide professional learning opportunities for teachers to learn strategies for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion grounded in asset approach pedagogy and aligned with active learning practices.

“Eldridge Park School is so honored to be selected as a pilot school for this exciting project,” shared Debbie Lingel, the music teacher at Eldridge Park School.  “As a school district, we have been working to promote equity and foster greater understanding among our students of all backgrounds.  We believe that the United We Create program is a perfect way to integrate all of these concepts while also promoting arts education.  Our involvement will benefit not only our students, but our staff members and community members as well.  We look forward to working with Young Audiences on this wonderful new program!”

“We were elated and ecstatic for being selected as a pilot school for the United We Create program,” shared Kelly A. Wharton Davis, 8th grade inclusion educator at U.S. Wiggins College Preparatory Lab Family School. “We at U.S. Wiggins value our partnership with Young Audiences and know our students will benefit from this fully funded arts program. Our scholars will be engaged with Muslim artists and individuals and they will develop a new understanding of diversity and the Muslim world.  This project will also help our scholars build a culture of inclusive learning by communicating with diverse artists of different ethnicities.”

United We Create is made possible through generous funding from the Building Bridges Program, the national grant-making arm of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, an extension of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Since 2007, the Building Bridges Program has supported endeavors that engage U.S.-based Muslims and non-Muslims in arts experiences to increase understanding and advance relationships between communities.

"We're excited to see this initiative underway,” shared Sohaib Sultan, Muslim Life Coordinator at Princeton University and Arshe Ahmed, Board Member of the Medina Community Clinic. “It is an extraordinary opportunity for students to broaden their horizons and their understanding of the world with stories of Muslim cultures and customs. This is a hopeful project: the power of storytelling and art to break down barriers and divisions." 

“Helping students come together to understand each others’ cultures and traditions is so important, especially for Muslim students who are often misunderstood,” said Tasneem Sultan, Executive Director of La Convivencia. “The arts are the perfect way to connect, to celebrate, and to embrace our differences.”

“We are delighted to support Young Audiences Arts for Learning as they advance cross-community knowledge and connections for the mutual benefit of young people from diverse religious backgrounds and cultures,” said Zeyba Rahman, senior program officer for the Building Bridges Program. “Stories shape our thinking in so many ways, and the arts are a powerful medium to help students more deeply relate to and appreciate each other.”

Young Audiences’ mission is to inspire young people and expand their learning through the arts. YA envisions a future in which all young people have the opportunity to engage in quality arts learning that nurtures creativity, cultural awareness, and the development of critical thinking and learning skills.

For more information about YA’s United We Create Program visit or contact TAHIRA at Young Audiences NJ & Eastern PA, at 866-500-9265 or


About Young Audiences Arts for Learning

Founded in 1973, Young Audiences Arts for Learning NJ & Eastern PA is the premier arts education partner in the region, collaborating to provide high-quality performances and artist-in-residence programs to schools in all 21 counties of New Jersey and the 7 easternmost counties of Pennsylvania. Young Audiences’ extensive professional teaching artists represent all art forms—from dance and theater to music, language, and visual arts. YA programs are designed to be child-centered, outcome driven, and effective, providing children with the opportunity to experience quality art; understand the art form and its cultural context; create their own original art; and connect art to their own life and learning. Since its founding, the organization has reached over 15 million children with essential arts education experiences.

A not-for-profit organization, Young Audiences’ mission is to inspire young people and expand their learning through the arts. YA’s programs are accessible to all socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, and geographic communities, and are designed to strengthen the arts in schools, meet local and state curriculum standards, involve families in arts activities, and enrich cultural life in New Jersey and Pennsylvania communities.

Young Audiences is the first arts education organization designated as a major service organization by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and, as part of the national network of Young Audiences, Inc., was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. Young Audiences programs are made possible in part through a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State and Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. Additional funding comes from foundations, corporations and generous individuals. To learn more, visit To be “social” with us, join us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram and Twitter @yaaflorg.

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