Bullying, stereotyping and prejudice are not welcome at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS), and a team of nearly 50 sophomores, juniors and seniors have dedicated themselves to reaching out to their peers and leading the difficult discussions that can break down barriers and build a positive and supportive school climate.
"I think the energy in this room is something that you might not see in a lot of other places in different classes, in different clubs," explained Mr. Rich Madel, a PWHS Spanish teacher and sponsor of the ADL club. "It's a lot of positive energy. It's a lot of kids that want to be good and do good and spread the message. And so that's fun. That's exciting."
Building tolerance and acceptance through activities for ninth graders
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) peer training program helps these student leaders develop the skills and knowledge set they'll need to create and run activities for ninth graders in their homeroom period known as Bonus Block.
"The most exciting part to me for ADL is meeting all new people. Like this year we have a lot of people coming in, and it's so great to be around people who have the same exact goals, who want to make a difference like you do," said Alena DiSanto, a senior at PWHS. "It's really cool to go into freshmen Bonus Blocks, meeting the upcoming freshmen, getting to know who they are, making them feel comfortable that they'll be spending the next four years at Plymouth Whitemarsh."
Leading by example
The ADL trainers work in small groups and have five activities that they'll facilitate with the freshmen during the year. The activities address gender, race and religion and teach the students to be more accepting of diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. To prepare for the job, the ADL trainers spend three full school days working with representatives from the ADL regional office in Philadelphia.
"I think I learned different ways to interact with students to make them want to talk and want to express themselves," explained Elliot Anderson, a senior at PWHS in his first year as a peer trainer. "I also feel like I learned how to make people feel comfortable in talking about things that are usually an uncomfortable topic."
PWHS as a No Place for Hate school
Having the ADL peer trainers work with ninth grade Bonus Blocks is one of three annual schoolwide projects that allow Plymouth Whitemarsh High School to be designated by the ADL as an official No Place for Hate school. The other two projects will be based on what the students and staff see as needs in their school community.
"I did ADL, because i like to make a difference in the world; I like to see a change. Just with the No Place for Hate, even like the little small stuff of helping a friend out or including someone into your group or activity is very self-rewarding to me, and I just want to spread that love and spread that positivity with everyone else," added Alena.
Plymouth Whitemarsh High School has been involved in the ADL peer training program for more than a decade and was one of the first schools in the Philadelphia area to be named a No Place for Hate school.
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Meet the ADL Peer Trainers and participate in an activity: Colonial Community Coffee Hour on October 25
The ADL Peer Trainers will be visiting the Colonial Community Coffee Hour on Wednesday, October 25, 9:30 a.m., as part of the presentation on the new "Making a Difference" initiative in the Colonial School District. You'll also meet members of Colonial Elementary's CES Cares club who'll be talking about what they've been doing. The Coffee Hour is held in the District Office General Meeting Room at Colonial Elementary School.
Designed to bring together parents, businesspeople, senior citizens, community partners and others, the Colonial Community Coffee Hour features a half-hour presentation, followed by a half hour of time to talk with administrators and presenters and ask questions over coffee. Coffee is courtesy of the Starbucks Coffee Company on the corner of Ridge and Butler Pikes in Conshohocken.