In this era of social media, bullying and bigotry do not take a summer vacation. Students are still targeted online during times when school is out of session, and during summer school itself.
Their peers may mock the way they dress, their religion, their race, or something they said or did at a summer party, the town park or at the beach. They can be slammed by an ex-boyfriend or -girlfriend with a nasty photo.
Through a program gaining strong footholds in New York, students are learning to question that distressing and pervasive culture. No Place for Hate educational programs are now operating in 173 schools across the state, involving students in changing their thoughts and actions.
“It’s important to be fighting bullying and bias all year,” said Beth Martinez, an educator with No Place for Hate.
The growth of the program is timely.
“This year, the student atmosphere has changed,” said Bethlehem special education teacher Megan McGinnis. “There’s a division among students over the current president.” She said there are more incidents of putting down people, racism, etc.
“As teachers and educators, we have to step out front,” McGinnis said.
Knowing how darkness can move swiftly and find many obscure corners in which to hang out, waiting to pounce in the form of hate, bullying or resentment, McGinnis began a No Place for Hate group at the Bethlehem High School in Albany County, as have many educators throughout the state. Students meet about once a month during the school year, and this year hosted an assembly in April.
As a high school teacher for the past decade — she is starting work at the middle school this September — McGinnis wanted to start a group that wasn’t focused around a sport or particular talent. She tapped into the national program, No Place for Hate, part of the national Anti-Defamation League. It incorporates administrators, staff and faculty, together with students.
“There’s a huge need for NPFH,” she said. “Its presence is needed ... our goal is to create an environment that takes on biases and segregation … to celebrate diversity.”
Martinez has seen that need grow as more schools reach out to the ADL. There are now 53 schools signed on through the league’s Albany regional office, from Syracuse to Glens Falls to Albany. New York has two regional ADL offices, with the second one being in New York City. There are 27 regional ADL offices in the country.
One of the branches of ADL is the educational component World of Difference. No Place for Hate is a spinoff of that; it began 10 years ago.
ADL began as an effort to end defamation of the Jewish people, and its mission embraced fair treatment of all as necessary to fighting all aspects of bigotry. No Place for Hate sets up programs with administrators, teachers, students and parents in schools where activities are designed to fight bias and bullying.
The word is spreading. In Shenendehowa in Saratoga County, Martinez said, the program began in one school in the district and is now present in all 12 buildings.
“It’s become school-district wide,” she said.
Working with ADL, a school can earn No Place for Hate designation by providing at least three anti-bias activities per year and sending a clear message that all students have a place to belong. Students sign a Resolution of Respect or a NPFH promise, depending on their age.
Special education students are at high risk of bullying, along with those who are English as New Language students, said McGinnis, who is a member of the Bethlehem Central Teachers Association, where she serves as local union secretary. Special ed students are told they’re in “the dumb program.”
And in these days of using technology to bully, more people are at risk of being targeted.
As far as bullying is concerned, “Snap Chat is the worst app that’s ever been created,” said McGinnis. “You take a photo of something, set a timer on it, and then blast it out. Then other people can see it, take a screenshot, and then they can post it elsewhere.”
Other people see it and make negative comments, adding fuel to the wildfire.
“I don’t think students take it as seriously as they should,” said McGinnis, who started a Cyber Bullying Ambassador Program. At the training for that program, “Students were told: There’s a soul behind that screen.”
“It’s very defeating for the students and then, coming into school and knowing comments were made, makes them feel very isolated,” she said.
Student suicide has been attributed to online bullying — which can range from exposing a student for questioning his/her sexuality to promiscuous photos or situations taken out of context. A typical example is when a student couple breaks up and unflattering photos are then posted by one of them.
Some cyber bullying victims engage in destructive behavior such as cutting, acting out, using drugs or alcohol.
At a half-day assembly hosted by students from Siena College in Loudonville at the invitation of the Bethlehem NPFH group, students were shown that by liking, commenting, or forwarding an offensive photo they are engaging in bullying themselves. If they do nothing, they are a bystander. To be an upstander, they would stand up for the person being bullied by calling out the post as being inappropriate.
An upstander could also reach out to the victim and the two would meet with a trusted adult.
Successful NPFH school groups earn a banner for their school and are honored at a year-end recognition ceremony. This year’s ceremonies drew 350 people in the Capital Region and 800 people in the New York City area.
The Anti-Defamation League has compiled an extensive Cyber Safety Action Guide with links to numerous companies and organizations on how to report Internet hate speech.
For information on setting up a No Place for Hate club in your school, contact the ADL at email@example.com.
The American Federation of Teachers site, Share My Lesson, has hundreds of free lesson plans available at www.sharemylesson.com, all developed and shared by teachers. Simply type “racism” “bullying” or “bias” into the search button for a plethora of resources.