VALENCIA – Rio Norte Junior High students are in training to teach diversity to elementary school youngsters. Come January, 68 students will take the stage at neighboring elementary schools in the Saugus Union School District to deliver short performances to third-graders about respecting race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. “I think that because we’re older the kids will look up to us,” said eighth-grader Madysson Decugniere, 13. Through these performances, district officials hope to give a solid understanding about people and the differences between them to youngsters before they reach junior high. “By the time they get to junior high, we assume they have that down, but we shouldn’t assume that because they could have picked up some negative things along the way,” he said. Ade Terry, 12, said that friends make jokes about him being African-American. The seventh-grade student said that makes him feel bad but he doesn’t show it. Seventh-grader Jake Kelfer said some tease him about his Jewish heritage and make digs about the Holocaust and swastikas. Fourteen-year-old Gabrielle Gan has taken shots from others about being Chinese, something she said she’s used to. But name-calling doesn’t always come from their peers. In fact, Gan said a little boy who was barely of school age made derogatory comments to her when she asked to borrow his skateboard. “I wish we could start teaching kids about this at an even earlier age,” she said. The program these students have trained with since November hones in on differences and also shows what people have in common. A mixed bouquet of flowers used in the performance will represent diversity, and students will cultivate a garden of hope with them. History teacher Sharon Ballard said the program should resonate well with elementary-school students, because it’s coming from a school that most will one day go to. “It teaches students not to be afraid to recognize that we are diverse,” she said. Sue Doyle,(661) [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake Rio Norte’s program aligns with a diversity plan adopted last month by the William S. Hart Union High School District to teach students, administrators and teachers about diversity and to create a culture of understanding in classrooms and the community. If the Rio Norte program goes well, Hart officials hope that other junior highs will do the same with elementary schools that feed into them, said Greg Lee, Hart diversity coordinator. Alexis Rubell, 13, said Rio Norte’s program will teach some youngsters how to stand up for themselves against bullies and will remind others that some jokes and comments are insensitive. Lee said those are lessons that need reinforcement among some junior high students, as well. While elementary schools already teach students how to treat others, Lee said the message hasn’t gotten through to some junior high teens.