Joshua Ortiz knows what it’s like to be bullied.
“I used to get picked on because I didn’t know what clothes to wear and I wore different clothes,” said the Coconut Grove Elementary fourth grader.
So when the Anti-Defamation League brought its No Place For Hate anti-bullying campaign to his school recently, training teachers and students on how to become allies to foster harmony and tolerance in schools, he knew exactly what to do.
“Let the aggressor know it’s not OK to act that way,” he said.
Nearly 30 years ago, the ADL created its A World of Difference Institute to provide educational programs and resources to combat intolerance and bullying, which now includes the No Place For Hate campaign launched in 2001. Four years ago, schools in Miami-Dade County began participating, with students and teachers tailoring programs for their schools, said ADL Director of Education Lily Medina.
“We had one school that had an issue with the Haitian and Jamaican students. So we can tailor it for their needs,” she said.
Throughout the year, the ADL stays in touch with the school’s counselor to offer guidance. And at the end of the year, the ADL returns to judge their progress and determine whether the schools can be certified as a No Place For Hate school.
“Some schools like Palmetto Elementary, which is in its third year, do amazing things,” she said. “They’ve really integrated it into their subject areas so it’s not just an add-on. It’s part of their everyday school life.”
Last year, Medina said 50 schools participated and all 50 received the designation.
Over the years, research shows bullying has become an increasing problem. In 2009, one in five students reported being bullied at school. And for kids between 8 and 15, it ranks as a bigger problem than drugs, sex or racism, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
Cyber-bullying is worse: more than 40 percent of kids say they’ve been bullied online, but nearly 60 percent said they never reported it.
And for every instance of playground bullying, the National Association of African American Studies reports that an adult intervenes only 4 percent of the time. A peer, 11 percent. Far more often — 85 percent of the time — no one tries to stop the bullying.
The ADL, Medina explained, created its programs to be largely driven by students, but the administration really determines whether it succeeds.
“That’s when you can really change a school’s culture and you can walk down a hallway and really feel a sense of respect,” she said.
At Coconut Grove Elementary, teachers picked students to become leaders, who then attended training classes led by Bennie Barnes, an ADL facilitator. After explaining the meaning of bullying, as well as the difference between being an ally, a bystander, an aggressor or a target, Barnes and Tali Ben-David Connell, another facilitator, broke about 30 students into five groups, acted out a bullying scenario, and asked the kids to come up with strategies for handling the situation.
“So like dude, I say let’s go tell on him because he’s doing this,” 9-year-old Hans Korpela suggested to Joshua, Willie Jones and Erik Gonzalez, also 9. As the group of fourth-graders debated what action to take, Korpela explained exactly how useful tolerance can be.
“Like Willie and I and this one,” he said pointing to Erik, “we used to be enemies and now we’re friends.”
“It’s hard to believe,” Joshua agreed.
Each year, the ADL hosts about 115 programs throughout Southeast Florida, Medina said. But Miami-Dade County has done the best job at incorporating the No Place For Hate program into schools, she said.
Schools usually pick programs based on grades, with elementary schools typically focusing on intervention and becoming allies; middle schools concentrating on cyber bullying and high schools tailoring instruction to address their needs.
At Coconut Grove Elementary, the students were initially sheepish about what they’d do. But with some urging, they grew louder and more confident.
“We’re asking you to speak up because in a real situation, you have to act,” Connell told the students. “You’re going to have to act. You’re going to really do it.”