Yesterday I was unbelievably grateful to be able to spend much of the day with 29 of our tenth and eleventh graders as they embarked on their first day of training with two Anti-Defamation League facilitators to become A World of Difference® Peer Leaders. It was a day filled with what I call ‘goosebumpy’ moments when students shared something that caused me to experience strong emotions that ranged from sadness to inspiration to hope.
These students attended a kickoff assembly before going through an application process to become AWoD Peer Leaders. A shout out to high school educators Su Nugent and Megan McGrath, the AWoD faculty advisors, who attended extensive training this past summer and spent countless hours learning, reviewing applications and interviewing students to ensure a diverse and committed group. They will meet weekly with these 29 students to continue to develop leadership and facilitation skills and help them understand their role in advocating for justice and equity.
A Diverse Group
The Peer Leaders represent many different ethnicities, as you can see from the pie chart below. 27.6% of the students have a disability (with a 504 plan or IEP), 52% of the students are sophomores, and 48% are juniors.
According to the ADL, Peer Leaders will “assume leadership roles in efforts to create respectful and inclusive schools and communities.” There are four main goals for these student learning during the three days of facilitated sessions:
Besides the degree of student voice this program brings to the high school, I am also extremely excited about the fact that the AWoD Peer Leaders learning is aligned with much of the work we are engaged in across the district with our educators. Our Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) professional learning centers around “personal reflection and testimony, listening to others’ voices, and learning experientially and collectively… SEED equips us to connect our lives to one another and to society at large by acknowledging systems of oppression, power, and privilege.” On November 5th, we are engaging staff in a professional learning day titled Diverstiy, Equity, and Inclusion: A Celebration of our Community. I shared this learning alignment with our Peer Leaders and told them how I can only imagine the synergy that can arise from students and staff sharing the same understandings about race, bias, discrimination, and more.
I realized what I was seeing at school, lots of other kids are also seeing.”ABRHS AWOD PEER LEADER , responding to the ‘isms’ brainstorm
Moving from Ally to Accomplice
As Jane Goodall said, “Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world.” On Friday, our students learned how they must be more than allies for those with marginalized identities; they must be accomplices. According to Teaching Tolerance, “ally work focuses on individuals, and accomplice work focuses on the structures of decision-making agency… An ally will mostly engage in activism by standing with an individual or group in a marginalized community. An accomplice will focus more on dismantling the structures that oppress that individual or group—and such work will be directed by the stakeholders in the marginalized group.” (And I thought I was up to date with terms, but clearly was not, as accomplice was brand new to me, also!)
Our 29 students made me proud in so many ways! They were humble and vulnerable. They opened themselves to engage in difficult dialogue with peers (for the most part) they didn’t know. They asked really hard questions, and they shared their truths about personal experiences with racism, bias, and hate with one another. Most importantly, they left feeling connected. As the facilitators wrapped up the day with a reflection activity, one brave student shared this quote that simply took my breath away:
For the first time in a long time, I’m not going home feeling lonely. I am going home feeling like there are other people who are like me.”ABRHS AWoD peer leader