Reid Students Working to Make School 'No Place for Hate'
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Reid Middle School students are collaborating to better inclusion efforts and fight bullying.
The school has received the "No Place for Hate" designation from the Anti-Defamation League and the student-lead team has made recommendations to Principal Michael Henault that will be incorporated in the next iteration of the school's improvement plan and turnaround efforts.
"This year has been a difficult year for kids in school and at home because of the pandemic, which is why we're doing this project was so important," student leader Lauren Asmah said. "We learned that by working together we can make changes I will help all of us."
The 2021 recommendations aim to make Reid a safer and more inclusive space for all students and were a combined effort with the peer leadership team and eighth-grade civics class. They were announced over the Zoom platform on Thursday.
The suggestions are that Reid: continues to work with ADL to raise awareness and build bridges of communication, understanding, and respect among all students regardless of their identity, build inclusive and safe space by developing more peer-to-peer support activities, promote a zero-tolerance message that the school is "no place for hate," and create two schoolwide, student-led events each year to address understanding and challenging bias and building allies.
"I am just incredibly proud of the work that's been done by our peer leadership team, on our eighth-grade civics team, our teachers and students combined, they've really just done an exceptional job working together with the ADL and our community partners to do what civics education is really all about," Principal Henault said.
"And that for me is creating a lifelong commitment to participation in our democracy, and we've done that, here at Reid this year."
The group also created a website for the civics class and ADL in conjunction with Williams College interns.
The league is comprised of students and is led by civics teachers Debra Guachione and David Demary, guidance counselor Kristen Shepardson, and RISE teacher Marilyn Allison.
The ADL program addresses hate speech and bullying within the school. The school has about 550 students and consists of 57.8 percent economically disadvantaged, 25.8 percent students with disabilities, and 2.2 percent English language learners.
ADL Education Director Phil Fogelman and William Ballen, representing partner organization Berkshire County Superintendents Roundtable, were on the Zoom call for the announcement.
"You have all done really important impressive work this year, and I hope you're proud of your commitment to creating more equity inclusion and justice at Reid and of course in our society more broadly," Fogelman said.
"Not only does Reid stand out as one of the first schools to implement No Place for Hate in New England, it also stands out as a school whose values of learning justice, community respect, and spirit exemplify the meaning of no place for hate. No place for hate is one where people encourage each other to learn about themselves, their society, and the world around them."
Ballen encouraged the eighth-grade students to continue their efforts into high school.
"My message to you today, on behalf of the superintendents, is to ask you to continue the work you're doing when you get to high school next year, you've done some great work at Reid and we've seen the fruits of your labor, certainly most recently, but we want you to continue to advocate and to enable other students and empower them with some of the things that you have learned from this program when you get to high school," he said.
"So I encourage you to talk to your teachers, to the administration at Taconic High School if that's where you're going to be if some of you are going to Pittsfield High School indicate to them that you would love to continue this program, and how important it is for the students and your peers."
In March, the eighth-grade civics class held a Virtual Town Hall with state Sen. Adam Hinds during which students quizzed the senator on topics ranging from hate crime legislation, the First Amendment, the vaccination rollout, and getting back to a "new normal."
Henault said it was the changes made in 2018 to the state's history and social science curriculum framework that led to the meeting with the senator. The core priority of the curriculum change was emphasizing and expanding civics education and supporting eighth-graders in a student-led civics project.
The students were rewarded for their efforts with a pizza party following the Zoom announcement.