PITTSFIELD — At Reid Middle School, there is No Place for Hate.
Reid now is among the Berkshire County schools to have achieved the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate designation, reflecting months of work guided by eighth grade civics students, and aimed at fostering an inclusive and equitable environment in school.
The achievement comes after a difficult year marked by the coronavirus pandemic, said Lauren Asmah, one of the students who served as peer leaders for the program.
“Which is why we’re doing this project was so important,” she said. “We learned that, by working together, we can make changes that will help all of us. … I don’t think that any type of prejudice or hate belongs in school, anywhere.”
Asmah spoke during a virtual celebration of the students’ work Thursday, which brought together peer leaders, educators and administrators. Through the No Place for Hate initiative, students led projects and rallied together to foster a school community without bias and bullying, and their work will be memorialized with an official banner set for display at the school.
Phil Fogelman, education director for ADL New England, congratulated the students and said Reid stands out as a school “whose values of learning, justice, community, respect and spirit exemplify the meaning of No Place for Hate.”
“You have all done really important, impressive work this year,” he said. “And I hope you’re proud of your commitment to creating more equity, inclusion and justice at Reid, and, of course, in our society more broadly.”
Asmah has no plan to let go of the lessons she learned over the past several months and said she is excited to bring her experience with her to high school, where, she said, “hopefully, we will be able to keep working together to make one safe place for everyone.”
William Ballen of the Berkshire County Superintendents’ Roundtable, who Fogelman said was instrumental to the initiative, urged the soon-to-be rising freshmen to press school leaders at their respective schools next year to pursue the program.
Eleven Berkshire County schools participate in the No Place for Hate program, Ballen said, and four more — Lee, Florida, Clarksburg and Savoy middle schools — are set to dive in next school year.
Ballen thanked the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and Berkshire United Way for their support.
Reid has been engaged with anti-bias programming for the past three years, through the ADL’s World of Difference Institute, said Debra Guachione, the school’s eighth grade civics leader. A committee formed this year included student peer leaders and educators, who spearheaded the process of earning the designation.
Over the course of a year when the pandemic forced students to oscillate between learning in person and online, the committee developed a website to centralize civics resources and led three activities that engaged all Reid students with the issues of social justice, bias, diversity and inclusion, according to Guachione.
Students and educators also signed a pledge declaring that they will take part in a collective effort to eschew hate and bias at Reid.
The student leaders have issued five recommendations toward continuing the momentum next school year: maintain Reid’s relationship with the ADL to raise awareness and promote “communication, understanding, and respect among all students regardless of their identity”; build safe and inclusive spaces for students through peer-to-peer activities; promote a “zero-tolerance message” that says Reid is No Plate for Hate; hold two student-led events to challenge and understand “bias and building ally behaviors”; and keep the website current.
Those recommendations will be formalized in the fabric of the school — Principal Michael Henault said school leaders plan to incorporate their suggestions into the next version of Reid’s school improvement plan.
He commended students and teachers for working together to make the school a more inclusive community “not just our group of students that we have this year, but for the Reid Middle School of the future.”