Safe schools
Author: Jennifer VanBuren

This pledge, while written for elementary students, seems like a great idea for people of all ages:

“I promise to do my best to treat everyone fairly. I promise to do my best to be kind to everyone – even if they are not like me. If I see someone being hurt or bullied I will report it to an adult. Everyone should be able to feel safe and happy at school. I want our school to be No Place for Hate®.”

Launched in 2001, hundreds of schools in Texas have adopted the No Place For Hate® program. In late October, hundreds of Austin middle school students gathered at the State Capitol for the No Place for Hate® Youth Summit. What is it all about? More than just an anti-bullying program, the goal is to create and sustain an environment of inclusion and respect in which differences and diversity are not only to be tolerated, but also embraced. Everyone, including students, administrators, teachers, custodians and parents should feel welcome and valued. Within an intentionally designed environment of understanding and respect, bullying and other behavioral and academic issues will naturally decline.

Resolution of Respect
I pledge from this day forward to do my best to combat prejudice and to stop those who, because of hate or ignorance, would hurt anyone or violate their civil rights. I will try at all times to be aware of my own biases and seek to gain understanding of those who I perceive as being different from myself. I will speak out against all forms of prejudice and discrimination. I will reach out to support those who are targets of hate. I will think about specific ways my community members can promote respect for people and create a prejudice-free zone. I firmly believe that one person can make a difference and that no person can be an “innocent” bystander when it comes to opposing hate. I recognize that respecting individual dignity, achieving equality and promoting intergroup harmony are the responsibilities of all people. By signing this pledge, I commit myself to creating a respectful community.

Pretty powerful stuff, yes? Can this even be taught? Why not?

With an emphasis on standardized test scores, daily discipline referrals and keeping a high attendance rate, administrators may conclude there is not enough time for implementing another program, but this is not just another educational gimmick. Kids who are bullied or excluded can experience negative physical, academic and mental health issues. They are more likely to miss, skip or drop out of school and standardized test scores drop along with participation in school activities. Creating an environment in which all students feel valued has been shown to bring improvements across the board.

In late October, three Georgetown ISD administrators spoke at the Phi Delta Kappa meeting in Austin regarding the implementation of anti-bullying programs at their campuses. Dr. Dave Denny (East View High School), Brian Dawson (Tippit Middle School) and Laurie Molis (Tippit Middle School), along with Megan Flowers (Anti-Defamation League) fielded questions on how No Place for Hate® has improved their campus atmosphere.

Brian Dawson promotes No Place for Hate® as a process, not an event, and that a culture of inclusion and acceptance in which all members of the school community are respected and appreciated does not come by accident, but through the overt teaching of ethics and values. All children should feel they belong, that their school is invested in their success and that their success benefits the whole school community. Some children believe that since their strengths and interests do not lie in sports, academics or the arts that they have to make their own place, “in trouble.” When every person is valued, all will have a positive role to play. It’s really all about pride in self and community.

Team effort
Many anti-bullying programs start at the top, but none will work unless everyone is invested. Teachers at Tippit Middle School prepared videos demonstrating acceptable behaviors and those that were totally out of line. The students loved watching how ridiculous inappropriate behaviors looked, especially when performed by teachers. Dawson and his staff believe that if an unwanted behavior is unspoken and unaddressed, a message is sent that the behavior is permitted. Teachers must set the tone for expectations, teach what they expect, re-teach, model and demonstrate again and again.

Many schools go far beyond the basic requirements of the program. The tone of tolerance, inclusion and high expectations are pervasive and tangible upon walking in the front door. Principal Brian Dawson holds his staff and all of his students to high expectations. Citing the quote, “the silent bigotry of low expectations,” he believes all children, regardless of their disability, primary language, gender, religion, neighborhood or nationality, should be held to high expectations; to do otherwise would be an unacceptable act of bigotry. People, when given support, guidance and tools they need to succeed, will begin to rise to these expectations.

Here are some ideas for
fun and effective school
Pep rallies in which cheerleaders create and perform cheers encouraging students to be “the one” who speaks up
Peer buddies for children with disabilities
An art contest where the winner’s design is printed on the school t-shirt
Mix-it-up lunches that encourage students from different social groups to sit together and participate in a survey
Student-painted banners and incentive programs where teachers catch students doing good
And these are only a few ways everyone can be included!

Beyond the bully
Face it: there is no program that can eliminate all bad behavior from human interactions. Bully behavior, stereotyping and prejudice can be found anywhere from the playground to the golf course, from the hallways to nightly news shows.

The trick is to not only increase the level of respect for all and reduce the amount of bullying, but also to prepare students to stand up for themselves and to be “the one” to stand up for a victim of prejudice and bullying. Somewhere between 71-85 percent of school shootings were at the hands of individuals reported to be a victim of bullying. Successful school programs address not only ways to reduce bullying in schools, but also ways to help students manage the experience of being bullied if it happens.

It is a tall order, but there is hope! With programs like No Place for Hate®, students and adults can be taught to embrace differences; we can all be empowered to stand up together and rally against hateful behavior by promoting a spirit of respect and community.

Jennifer VanBuren believes when a place is overflowing with acceptance, pride, respect and honor, there is no place left for hate.


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