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Names Can Really
Hurt Us

Itís possible to help create a world
That makes room for all of us ...
A world that welcomes ...
A place where everyone can flourish.
Vision of "A World of Difference" Institute

By Beth Bruno, ©1999, All Rights Reserved
My friend, Grace, received training from the Anti-Defamation Leagueís A World of Difference Institute to lead groups of teachers, administrators and students into discussions about bias, bigotry, prejudice and racism in their schools. In the following vignettes, Grace describes some of the "miracles" that have resulted from these discussions.

"It was an amazing and emotional experience to observe the shift that occurred in the culture of a high school, as students lined up to share their innermost thoughts and feelings about name-calling, prejudice and discrimination in their school and community. In the span of a few hours, students who had been victims had a voice; students who had been victimizers expressed remorse and became strong voices for change."

Here are a few examples from that morning:

Grace told me that a young man stepped up to the microphone, wearing a letter jacket. At first he was boisterous, saying that the morning had been great and he had learned a lot. Then his voice dropped and he got very quiet. He spoke with tears in his eyes of the pain of having a reading disability and of the embarrassment of reading in front of his peers. The empathy in the auditorium was palpable.

One girl confessed to frequent thoughts of suicide. She said that she was harassed every day, because of how she dressed, who her friends were and how she talked. She asked her tormentors to stop, to give her space and respect, so that she could finish high school and go on to college, where perhaps she would fit in better.

A new student, who had come in mid-year, got up tp speak. She shared that she had moved three times during high school, and that it was very difficult to make new friends all the time. Fortunately, she had made some friends, but along the way a rumor started that she was gay. She stated that although some of her friends were gay, she was not. She asked her fellow students to stop labeling her and taunting her for no reason.

Are schools doing enough to end student and teacher harassment?

Your Thought

"Student after student shared," Grace said. "And as they shared, a common sense of urgency and outrage developed. What occurred next felt like a miracle. One student got up and asked everyone to commit to creating a respectful, supportive school. Then another rose to declare that no student should be picked on, no matter what the reason. From there it went to action plans, with ideas popping up in every corner and students volunteering to help. It was truly an inspiring day."

The World of Difference Institute was started in Boston in 1985 when the ADL and WCVB-TV joined together to fight prejudice. Their programs: A Classroom of Difference, A Campus of Difference, A Community of Difference, and A Workplace of Difference have proven to be remarkably effective ways to promote and embrace diversity, by changing hearts and minds across the nation - and beyond.

"Names Can Really Hurt Us" is an extraordinary new ADL initiative, which trains student leaders, so that they can work with their peers on how to understand and engage the often complex issues that religious, racial and ethnic diversity introduces in their schools and communities. The program culminates in a daylong program led by students, and the effect has been electric. According to one participant, "It really brings home, if youíre not part of the solution, youíre part of the problem."

Wendy Sultaire, from The Gilbert School in Winsted, CT, had this to say about "Names Can Really Hurt Us." "Students and staff alike gave the program high accolades. I even had parents calling me at home praising the program. The parents said that their children had never come home from school so excited and eager to talk about their day. Perhaps the best aspect of the "Names" program is the active involvement of students, faculty and the community. The program is developed by students and staff with ADL trainers serving as mentors and guides throughout the training and assembly. The students are the assembly! The training and assembly are both highly interactive. No one sits and just passively receives information. The cathartic and uplifting spirit remaining after the program will long be remembered by many as the highlight of their days at Gilbert."

Carol Parmelee-Blancato, Associate Superintendent in the Middletown, CT schools commented after a "Names" program at the High School, "It was obvious to many that the atmosphere of the school was visibly changed after this day-long program. There seemed to be a stronger sense of community when students really heard how other kids felt when they had been picked on. Even students who had not attended the program seemed to "catch" the good feelings that others displayed. This program also increased teachersí awareness of studentsí feelings. We recognize the need for ongoing opportunities for open dialogue between adults and students in order to foster a school community of harmony and acceptance. We plan to continue to work with the World of Difference trainers as we continue this important work with our students."
Author's Bio

Special and regular educators, administrators and parents can participate in the ADL's "World of Difference" programs (information below) by applying for the training necessary to lead "A World of Difference" or "Names Can Really Hurt Us" programs. (bb)

Your Comments on this article - Subject: Names Can Hurt
2safeschools Message Board - Forum for parents and school staff to exchange ideas, post files for discussion, maintain a searchable archive and help you keep in touch with others in their efforts to find solutions to hostile, abusive and unsafe school and school bus evironments. Now you can view our forums without joining - click on GUEST at log-in.
Teachers.Net - A national website for teachers of all disciplines at all grade levels. Provides many resources. Beth Burno writes a regular column at teachers.net called "Schoolhouse Views."
SNET's Internet Features Page - An excellent website for parents and teachers, features articles relevant to the home, school and the community environment.

The national Anti-Defamation League (ADL) - The ADL is an established, more than 85-year-old agency that fights bigotry worldwide through regional and satellite offices. To inquire about becoming a trainer, contact: Marji Lipshez-Shapiro, Director of CT World of Difference Institute Email: [email protected], Telephone: 203-772-1300, FAX: 203-787-1524

A World of Difference is a fee-for-service program. Fees vary, depending on the type and length of the program, number of participants, and number of trainers required. Many clients find funding through grants, foundations and corporate support. If you would like to observe one of the programs "in action," contact Ms. Lipshez-Shapiro at the number or email address listed above.

Trainer qualifications:

  • Bachelorís degree or combination of education and experience that provides a foundation for serving as a facilitator
  • Professional training, teaching or other group leadership experience
  • Knowledge and interest in diversity and intergroup issues and anti-bias education
  • Familiarity with K-12 education
  • Experience in platform presentation/facilitation
  • Commitment to addressing all issues of diversity (including race, socio-economic class, ability, religion, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, profession and more)
  • Bilingual/bicultural skills desired, but not required
  • Willingness to embark on or continue personal journey to explore issues of prejudice and bias
  • Ability to communicate goals, objectives and philosophical approach of A World of Difference Institute programs
  • Expertise in leading discussions and understanding of group process/dynamics, including ability to listen attentively, encourage participants to express diverse viewpoints and resolve conflict
  • Ability to present material in a motivating and energetic manner
  • Ability to take direction and feedback
  • Applicants must be available to serve as a trainer for a minimum of 5 programs per academic year. Most programs take place between 8 AM and 6 PM
  • Applicants must be willing to provide own transportation
  • Applicants must be available to attend quarterly evening trainer meetings.
A Mother's Story - What this mom did when the school and therapy failed her out-of-control son. Excellent reading for Parents and School Staff dealing with an out-of-control teen and nothing else has worked.
A Librarianís Story - A 10-year veteran of the King County, (Washington State) Public Library resigned rather than carry out library policy of providing children with pornography.
How to help keep your child's school bus safe - A short article from "In Loving Memory."

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