To paraphrase a certain 245-year-old document, all people are created equal.
And in Upper St. Clair School District, that particular tenet of the Declaration of Independence is taken seriously.
Each of the district’s six schools has earned the Anti-Defamation League’s 2020-21 No Place for Hate designation, in part by presenting anti-bias activities that celebrate diversity and promote respect for differences.
Two of the buildings received special honors during Spread the Light: A No Place for Hate Celebration, hosted virtually May 20 by ADL Cleveland, which serves Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Western Pennsylvania.
Streams Elementary was among eight schools to receive honorable mention for its activities, which were judged on theme, student leadership, school-wide participation and depth of discussion.
And Upper St. Clair High School won the All-Around Award, topping the field of 50 No Place for Hate schools in the ADL Cleveland service area, earning $125 worth of books focused on diversity and inclusion.
Dan Zelenski, high school assistant principal and No Place For Hate coordinator, thanked the committee of students who made the award possible.
“Because of your dedication, commitment and creativity, we’ve been able to plan and implement meaningful programming throughout the school year. I’m truly proud of the work we’ve accomplished, but I’m even more proud because of you, our student leaders,” Zelenski said in a message recorded at the high school.
“Your work has led to thoughtful discussions, increased awareness and proactive actions to combat hate and make our school an even more inclusive place,” he continued. “I’m excited about how we will build upon this foundation in next year’s programming.”
ADL anti-bias facilitator Daniel Jacobson López, who made the award presentation, cited two specific Upper St. Clair activities that impressed the judges: “Combatting Bullying and Microaggressions” and “The Black Experience: Who Am I?”
“Both activities engaged student leaders in unique and significant ways, including addressing anti-Black racism with the creation of an anonymous reporting form by the school’s No Place for Hate Committee,” he said, “and a collaboration with various student organizations to examine implicit and explicit bias that still exists in today’s society.”
During last year’s Spread the Light virtual event, Upper St. Clair’s Boyce and Fort Couch middle schools were among four schools recognized with Equity Awards for their efforts in addressing bias and promoting understanding.
Since 1999, the student-driven No Place for Hate initiative has helped promote anti-bias education in more than 1,700 public and private schools across the country. Upper St. Clair implemented the program in 2019, incorporating its resources into the district’s existing programs in order to have one consistent message of inclusivity.
For Spread the Light 2021, Yelena Boxer, who chairs the regional board for ADL Cleveland, alluded to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year is particularly special, special because it is almost impossible to think of a year where there would have been more obstacles and more roadblocks in your way. Yet through it all, you came together as school communities and said that you were going to prioritize No Place for Hate,” she said. “You prioritize love, acceptance, growth in the midst of an environment pushing in the opposite direction.”
ADL Cleveland regional director James Pasch made similar comments.
“Many times throughout the year, our region and our nation were not just fighting back against a physical virus, but also a virus of hate. And we all know that the best tool to fight back against that virus is with education,” he said. “As long as we continue to stay committed to improving, to learning and to understanding one another, we can combat anything and we can do anything.”
He also offered a high level of encouragement.
“I was often asked throughout the year how or why I remained optimistic in the face of so much turmoil and so much hate,” Pasch said. “And the answer is you. I trust in you, the next generation of leaders. I know that you’re committed to creating a world with more acceptance and with more understanding of one another.”
For more information, visit https://www.noplaceforhate.org/.