Whitehall schools’ goal: ‘No place for hate’

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Whitehall’s middle and high school have begun using the “No Place for Hate” program to combat bullying within schools by teaching students about the harms of it while creating a feeling of inclusivity.

The program can be customized to the unique situation of a school through active learning and discussions of bias, bullying, inclusion and allyship.

“Over 1.4 million students supported by 100,000+ educators learned how to take action against bias and bullying in the last school year across more than 1,800+ schools,” No Place for Hate’s website states.

Being a teen today comes with more stress than some might know. In an advanced technological world, students face hate not only within the walls of the school but also at home. With the added pressures of fitting in and maintaining good grades, students can struggle.

“We’re trying to help people and bring everyone together to help make peace and get along with each other,” student Charlotte Townsend said.

Three students – Townsend, Raelynn Matteson and Katherine Tremaine – were the ones who brought the issue up to councilor David Gale. When made aware of the situation, Gale, who is familiar with the area, jumped on the opportunity to help the student body.

“This is my first year in Whitehall…after doing my internship here 10 years ago. When I came here the job fell in my lap and one of my interview questions was ‘what are you going to do about bullying,’” he said. “Every school has it but a lot of people don’t really know what it is today so part of it is about identifying bullying or if it’s mean behavior and trying to discuss that in health classes.”

Gale said he felt more needed to be done to combat the issue and after speaking with principal Ethan Burgess, Gale found No Place for Hate and was attracted to the student-led initiative of the program.

“I’m there to keep guardrails and make sure we are meeting the criteria of the program, but it’s really the students taking the reins,” he said.

It is well known that within the Whitehall schools, especially the high school’s faculty and staff, do their best to make the school a place that is open purely for the students and what they want to do or learn. This also transpires into No Place for Hate.

“For the program, we have to do three different activities that are approved by them, and they need to hit certain marks to be considered by the program,” Gale said. “At our last meeting…I decided to pull together the students who are the real movers and shakers that sought me out to tell me they wanted to be a part of it.”

Roughly one in five students reported being bullied in 2019. The effects of bullying have been seen in students through mental health and overall self-esteem. In such a pinnacle point of self-esteem and confidence development in the life of the youth, the harsh words can seem never-ending for students.

The August 2020 flood and pandemic didn’t make things any easier, either.

“It was really hard because everyone was going through a lot at once and that’s why the world got so depressed,” Townsend said. “And then when people started to get out again after the last two years people got feral.”

Gale said the school did not get involved in the program until December and saw it as an upper hand when approaching the end of the 2021-22 school year. The group is working on ideas for different events to promote the group. One idea was for a possible bake sale.

“We have to figure out what we would like to benefit and then who makes what and so on. Breaking that kind of stuff up makes things more approachable for everyone and it’s the students taking the lead on planning the event,” Gale said.

When speaking of bullying that happens in schools across the nation, Gale highlighted that the issue of bullying is a culture among schools and communities. With starting the program this year, Gale believes this is the change Whitehall needs and is excited to see the change it brings by the time the three students graduate from high school. Katherine Tremaine also said the program goes beyond “the superhero complex” of helping others.

“I think if it’s something you really care about, it doesn’t seem as scary to be a part of a group like No Place for Hate,” she said.

“Working as a group is better than having leaders because there’s more ideas, responses, and opinions coming in,” Townsend added.

With the increased use of the digital world by the youth, students never have a chance to get away from bullying now. Before the days of cell phones, often the bullying would be paused if a student wasn’t at school. But now, it’s inescapable. Students will go as far as to make fun of a person for their interest to how they walk or talk.

“I don’t understand why people pick the weirdest reasons to pick on people. It can be the slightest reason and it hurts,” Raelynn Matteson said.

The initiative of No Place for Hate is planning to be in full effect with activities planned for the student body starting in the next school year.