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No Place For Hate

Jackie Saylor and Danielle Ambrosia State High could have another reason to be proud if a social justice campaign at the school succeeds.


Since last fall, a student-led committee has been working to qualify State High as an official No Place For Hate school. To receive the NPFH designation from the Anti-Defamation League, the committee has worked with faculty and the district Office of Equity and Inclusivity to design and implement three school-wide activities aimed at improving the school climate for all students.


The project represents one of the many ways the State College Area School District is supporting students and employees with equity and anti-bias initiatives. Last October, the school board passed a milestone anti-racism resolution, and ongoing efforts include a districtwide equity audit, diversity-promoting book clubs, the Social Justice Summer Institute for training student peer advocates, and the Inclusive Excellence Steering Committee with its seven equity workgroups.


State High’s NPFH drive follows the Delta Program’s success. During the 2019-2020 year, Delta was named No Place for Hate after completing the required steps, and its committee has been working on becoming re-certified this year.


“NPFH provides the opportunity to engage with students and to have conversations around topics and issues that can be difficult,” says State High social studies teacher Jackie Saylor, a committee advisor. “Even though it can be challenging, it is important that we provide students with opportunities to engage in dialogue around matters of race, ethnicity and identity.”


In the fall, the State High committee kicked off by inviting students to sign a pledge affirming a commitment to an inclusive school. In addition, students were sent an anonymous survey about school climate.


“It’s a way to get students’ voices and make students feel that they’re active participants in creating this school culture where everyone feels welcomed and supported,” says English teacher and committee advisor Danielle Ambrosia. “Students were integral in creating the questions.”


For the second NPFH activity this winter, the committee is planning a social media campaign modeled after the noted Humans of New York series of interviews with everyday people. The hope is to interview State High students about their identities and share their stories on the school’s Instagram account.


The final activity, scheduled for April, will be an anti-racism lesson building on lessons about identity and trauma that the equity office coordinated this year. 


“We want all three lessons to connect,” Ambrosia says. “We want there to be an arc and a flow.”


Students on the committee are taking the lead in creating the third lesson, drawing on established anti-bias and anti-racism education materials. “They have taken on the responsibilities for this group and they are demonstrating strong leadership and organizational skills,” Saylor says. “NPFH is a student-driven, student-focused effort.”


Both teachers believe the No Place for Hate work will benefit students beyond State High’s walls.


“Students participating in social justice and equity endeavors have a distinct advantage over those who do not participate,” Ambrosia says. “State High students will have experiences not only acknowledging the unique identities of others, but also intentionally working to include and amplify diverse perspectives and voices within our school.” 


Saylor thinks the conversations taking place will foster an important life skill for students entering college, joining the workforce or enlisting in the military in an increasingly diverse society.


“In the long term, I hope that students will feel more comfortable engaging in meaningful discussions and asking questions when they are faced with a situation that they do not understand,” she says. “Students can practice making mistakes and learn how to recover from them.”


By Chris Rosenblum
Photos by Nabil K. Mark