A group of 30 students at St. Lawrence, a K-8 Catholic school near North Miami Beach, could be heard chanting from the school’s library.
The refrain: “No place for hate.”
The chant was part of a three-hour anti-bullying program called Becoming an Ally, put on by the Florida Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
In one exercise, the league facilitators asked students to identify as a target of bullying, a bystander, an aggressor or a confronter. Many identified with more than one.
“They made fun of me because I was an ‘A’ student,” said one fifth grader. “The ones who were bullying me were D and F students.”
A fourth grader said: “I bullied someone when I was younger because I felt such anger…I just felt like doing whatever.”
The group discussed the meaning of words such as power, respect, revenge and courage. Small groups performed skits, assuming different roles. At the end, students signed a pledge to turn their school into a “Place without Hate.”
“The pledge will help people not just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” said Maria Kayla Jeanjacqus, a seventh grader. “This is a great opportunity to learn more about how to not discriminate, and teach kids to not be so hateful.”
Teachers chose a mix of students to attend from the fourth and seventh grades: Those who needed a boost of self-esteem, and those who were known to be bullies or were very confident.
Religion teacher Denise Broughton organized the workshop after she attended an ADL conference on anti-Semitism in Washington over the summer.
“Yes it’s a Catholic school, and yes we fervently believe in loving and caring for our neighbor,” Broughton said, “but all around them they see the exact opposite. So that’s why I really wanted the school to be a zone where they could come to and feel loved by us.”
Broughton said she was lucky to find a parent, who wished to remain anonymous, willing to sponsor the event.
The school is now working toward becoming an ADL designated No Place for Hate this year. On Valentine’s Day students will create a tile wall inscribed with messages of kindness — one of three school-wide projects required for designation.
Kathy Hersch, one of the league facilitators, co-chaired a coalition that led to the anti-bullying curriculum in Florida public schools in 2005. She said St. Lawrence cited problems with teasing and name-calling in their request.
Under the Archdiocese of Miami’s anti-bullying policy, this may constitute bullying.
St. Lawrence adopted the anti-bullying policy of the Archdiocese, said principal Dian Hyatt. The school additionally requires students to sign an anti-bullying pledge at the beginning of the year, and incorporates bullying prevention in some religion classes.
Incidents are reported to the diocese only if they are deemed severe, Hyatt said, who added no incidents have been reported during her tenure.
“Normally our kids are very comfortable with the teachers and with me,” Hyatt said. “If they see something happening they’re allowed to be anonymous if they report.”
The reach of league’s programs has increased over the past two years, going from five schools to more than 50 as of last year, said Lily Medina, education director for ADL of Florida.
Of those, 38 met No Place for Hate designation requirements last year. Medina attributed the increase to league’s expanded programming; the group is targeting students at increasingly earlier ages, motivated by reports from teachers.
The elementary school anti-bullying program is in its third year after being piloted in Florida in 2011, she said. It has become very popular.
“Middle school is already too late to prevent,” she said. “We started in Pre-K talking about diversity and respecting others.”
The language of bullying is not introduced until middle school, she said.