A Safe Space For Students: 15 Years of No Place for Hate in Houston

I believe the children are our future and I’m sure you do as well. Since children spend the majority of their day in school, a school’s curriculum and environment influences their development and our future. With the increase in school’s security, state testing, and in some subjects or activities reduced funding, I sometimes wonder if school’s are heading in the right direction. Thankfully, there are programs that enhance our children’s school experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Shaw, the education director at the Anti-Defamation League’s Houston office, about their No Place for Hate initiative. The program promotes respect for individual and group differences and challenges prejudice and bigotry in schools K – 12. This year marks the program’s 15 year anniversary in Houston. We talked about the program’s progress in Houston, the upcoming 15 year celebration, and how you can get involved with this wonderful initiative.

Dagny Zenovia: A Safe Space for Students - 15 Years of No Place for Hate in Houston
Provided by ADL No Place for Hate Houston

The No Place for Hate program was launched in Houston in 2001. This was the first time such an initiative was used in schools. Initially, in 1999, the program started in Boston for townships and municipalities. The regional director of the Houston office at the time “made a visit to the Boston office and sort of fell in love with the whole concept,” said Susan Shaw. “Our office along with the Philadelphia office started to recreate the materials and we built an education committee.”

The program is implemented in schools by forming a coalition, which includes students, administrators, faculty, staff, and parents, to come together to do an assessment of the issues that need to be addressed on campus. All members of the coalition sign the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) resolution of respect and participate in at least 3 anti-bias or diversity activities throughout the school year. For those interested in getting your school to participate in this initiative, this is the application process:

  1. Submit a proposal for the school activities by October;
  2. The review committee determines if the proposed activities are appropriate and whether they address the issues on campus;
  3. Once approved, school proceeds to create and implement the activities;
  4. In May, school submits a report to go over challenges, progress, and how ADL can continue to help in the future;
  5. New schools get a personalized banner with 5 blank stars; for every year they earn a designation, they get a star with the school year to place on the banner.
Dagny Zenovia: A Safe Space for Students - 15 Years of No Place for Hate in Houston
Students at No Place for Hate Youth Summit at South Texas College of Law (source: ADL No Place for Hate Houston)

The combination of school proposed activities and ADL lesson plans provide creative and innovative ideas. For example, one of their most popular activities is known as “mix it up.” At lunch, the students get to sit with students other than their friends and are given questions to ask each other. This encourages students to interact with others in school. Another activity that was recently implemented is known as “buddy bench.” Lessons were done through the guidance counselor on bullying, name calling, and acceptance. Part of the activity included building a buddy bench so that no students would feel isolated or excluded.

Dagny Zenovia: A Safe Space for Students - 15 Years of No Place for Hate in Houston
Provided by ADL No Place for Hate Houston

Susan has worked with ADL for 18 years, after previously working as the education director at the Holocaust Museum in Houston and as a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher in Spring Branch ISD. Her work in anti-bias and diversity reaches beyond her job to her upbringing in Long Island, New York. “I’m a product of the 60s and remember very clearly when integration came to our community,” said Susan. “My parents were more about acceptance and I think I carried a little of that baggage with me. That is why ADL seemed like a perfect fit for me.”

From the beginning of No Place for Hate in Houston, Susan has directed and created this program every step of the way. During their first year, they had 9 schools participate. Due to the success of that first year and word of mouth, they doubled their numbers every year after that. They now have 21 regional offices and 1500 schools participating in the program. During the 2014 – 2015 school year, 350 public, private, and charter schools earned No Place for Hate designation. During this past school year, 2015 – 2016, more than 400 schools have applied. “It’s great to see schools not only focusing on the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also respect the importance of social and emotional learning in the classroom,” said Susan.

Dagny Zenovia: A Safe Space for Students - 15 Years of No Place for Hate in Houston
Students at No Place for Hate Youth Summit at South Texas College of Law (source: ADL No Place for Hate Houston)

That progress is what makes the upcoming Luncheon so special. ADL’s annual luncheon will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the No Place for Hate initiative by recognizing the hundreds of schools that have achieved No Place for Hate designation and honoring three educators for their efforts to create a school atmosphere that promotes diversity. The honorees include Dr. James W. Cain, Klein ISD Superintendent, Yvonne DeLeon, Kenneth E. Little Elementary School Counselor, and Dr. Nancy Simpson, Kinkaid Lower School Counselor. The Luncheon will also feature keynote speaker Dr. Jennifer Arnold, M.D. of Texas Children’s Hospital and TLC’s “The Little Couple.” This special event will be on May 4th at noon at the Hilton Houston Post Oak. For more information and tickets, contact Alexis Tahara at alexis@integrateagency.com or Dena Marks at dmarks@adl.org.

“This is my favorite event of the year,” said Susan. “Not only is it an opportunity for ADL to showcase the great work we do in education, but it is also an opportunity to honor and recognize the educators that are doing the work. We get to say thank you for the their support, creativity, compassion, and collaborative efforts.”

Dagny Zenovia: A Safe Space for Students - 15 Years of No Place for Hate in Houston
Provided by ADL No Place for Hate Houston

I think the influence of an initiative like No Place for Hate is really important. In addition to creative activities, this can impact a student’s performance and development in and out of the classroom. A school atmosphere that is truly free of hatred is more secure. Students would have more of an incentive to attend school and perform well in an atmosphere where they feel safe and appreciated.

“The No Place for Hate program has become a safe haven for those who may not traditionally engage in after school activities,” said Susan. “We consistently think of what resources and support educators need to feel comfortable addressing these issues [such as Ferguson and transgender identity] in the classroom.”

If you would like to learn more about the No Place for Hate initiative in Houston, visit http://www.adl.org/noplaceforhatehouston and houston.adl.org/noplaceforhate

Have you participated in a No Place for Hate activity? What do you think of the initiative? How do you think we can improve our children’s experience at school?

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36 thoughts on “A Safe Space For Students: 15 Years of No Place for Hate in Houston

    1. So true. I hope programs like this can also curb the amount of violence we see in grade schools. No one can learn in a place they do not feel safe. Thank you for your comment Shalanda. Appreciate it.

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  1. Wow great article on raising awareness on such a great program for kids! I love how you write so passionately about social issues that affect our children today. Thank you. ❤

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  2. This is SO awesome. I am a theatre teacher so I have always made it a point for my class to be the “safe space” – it’s the class they all want to be in and look forward to. But of course I can only do so much. How amazing there is something like this for young students!

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  3. Hi Dagny! Thanks so much for the follow. This article really struck home to me. Growing up, I felt like there was just so much hate between students. And I thought as you got older, it got better but here I am in the workforce and I still see hate everyday. It definitely starts with the kids. Good kids become great adults!

    Talia

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    1. Hi Talia. That is so true. It’s sad how it feels like we can’t escape hatred, regardless of our age. We can’t change the world, but by sharing love with everyone we interact with…hopefully we can make a difference. Thanks for the comment and follow. Appreciate it. Glad to meet another Houston blogger.

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