Mindful of changing demographics within the student body, the Northampton Area School District is teaching students to embrace and accept the differences among them.
Administrators have set a goal of being a No Place for Hate district by the end of the school year, launching student projects at each of the schools with an overarching districtwide program serving as an umbrella over them all.
No Place for Hate, a national program created by the Anti-Defamation League, is a way for administrators to teach students the value of celebrating diversity, accepting the differences among their peers and turning away from bias based on ethnicity or other factors, said Kathleen E. Ott, director of data, grants and special programs.
"We want to increase their awareness and enhance their understanding in order to better prepare them for life in the 21st century," she said.
The blend of ethnic backgrounds in the district has changed along with that of the country, triggering the need for the program, Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik said.
He said the minority population in the district, 15 percent, is up from 4 percent during the 2003-04 school year. Thirty percent of students in Northampton Area are enrolled in free and reduced-price lunch programs, he said, with 40 percent of the student body at George Wolf Elementary participating.
The program teaches students to respect one another's differences while also putting the brakes on bullying.
When the program was rolled out at the beginning of the school year, each of the six schools in the district formed committees and developed three student projects, including essay-writing initiatives, discrimination and diversity lessons, logo building contests and quilt murals.
Districtwide, students will present Konkrete Collages of artwork in various media, displaying how they celebrate diversity.
Northampton Area will hold a Multicultural Expo in the spring, with students displaying their work from throughout the school year during a celebratory event, and conduct a seminar centered on celebrated author Ruby Payne's book "The Framework for Understanding Poverty."
The seminar will be the starting point for a book club, Ott said.
"It's important to understand the challenges of poverty," she said.
The district has been doing many of the initiatives in the No Place for Hate program for several years, Ott said, but has now folded them into a concerted format to better impart the message of inclusion.
David Lafferty, an assistant principal at Northampton Area Middle School, said the concept of No Place for Hate was developed into a lesson plan by Crystal Becker, an instructional assistant in the school media center, along with a student.
The lesson plan was then shared with the entire student body through the school's TV studio, he said.
"It's really working; we're very pleased," he said.
Renee Sallit, assistant principal at Siegfried Elementary, said students have begun creating self-portraits in various media expressing their uniqueness with the help of Asha Kish, art teacher at the school. The artwork will be displayed on stairwells at the school when they are all completed, she said.
Ott said some of the creations, such as the Multi-Cultural Cookbooks being done by students at Moore Elementary, might even be available for sale as fundraisers.
"That, to me, is great," school Director Jean Rundle said. "If the kids produce it we should be able to buy it."
Kevin Duffy is a freelance writer.
With public displays of hate on the rise, it is more important than ever for schools to commit to programs that clearly define expectations in behavior for all members of the community. Whether you are a student, educator, or family member, you have a role to play in combating bias and bullying as a means to stop the escalation of hate.
No Place for Hate is a self-directed program helping all of the stakeholders take the lead on improving and maintaining school climate so all students can thrive. To be designated No Place for Hate, a school must complete the following:
- Needs assessment
- Formation of a No Place for Hate committee
- Signing of the Resolution of Respect
- One A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute anti-bias or bullying prevention training program (optional in some regions)
- Design and implementation of three school-wide anti-bias or bullying prevention activities
Upon completion of the required program components, schools receive a No Place for Hate banner that can be proudly displayed in the school.
Learn more by checking out the No Place for Hate Resource Guide and scrolling down to hear from people who have helped make their school No Place for Hate.