Submitted by Melanie Menagh
Recently, six Black River High School students made a presentation as part of their participation in A World of Difference (AWOD) conference, “The Power of Being an Ally,” in Boston. “There were over 1,000 students and 100 peer trainers from all over New England,” reports AWOD participant, Freshman Hannah Livingston. “We peer-trained a group of 30 middle-school kids: things like role-playing that were hands-on and really made them think about bullying and harassment, and how you can stop them.”
AWOD is a program that trains high school students who, in turn, teach anti-harassment techniques to other middle and high schoolers. AWOD “was established by the Anti-Defamation League around the late 1990s,” notes Liz McBain, Counselor at BRHS. “It’s a research-based curriculum that allows high-school and middle-school students to teach their peers around the state on issues relating to diversity.”
Only in its second year at BRHS, the AWOD crew has participated in many learning and training sessions. The program is funded by an Okemo Challenge Grant, Best Grant, and the Black River Area Community Coalition. The first year of the program, McBain and colleagues accompanied a small group of BRHS students to a Montpelier youth conference on cyberbullying. Participants returned full of enthusiasm: “They were really interested in continuing the program in school,” recalls McBain, who participated in AWOD programs since seventh grade, herself.
This year’s AWOD students left Ludlow after school, booked into a Boston hotel, toured the city, then participated in the conference during the next day. It proved a moving experience for all. “There were speakers on bullying and harassment,” says Livingston. “The message is accept everyone and be a better person.
“Everyone was really dedicated,” Livingston relates. “It was a great experience getting the chance to learn and teach other kids.”
Virtually anyone can join AWOD—“I got a sheet from Guidance my first year,” says Livingston. All must sign an agreement pledging to stand up to bullying and model healthy behavior and judgment. New AWOD participants get several days of intensive training in the fall with current members and an instructor from the Anti-Defamation League. Then they get to work: AWOD members offered formal in-class sessions to Black River Middle School students in the Life Skills class. “Our goal is to get all seventh and eighth graders into training on issues regarding diversity,” says McBain. Black River’s AWOD teams have given seminars at other schools and parent groups around the state including workshops at Green Mountain Union High School for their Diversity Day activities, anti-bullying training at Mount Holly Elementary School, and BRHS peers held a two-hour program at South Burlington High School’s “Stand Up against Racism Day”.
“Our AWOD (members) walk the walk,” McBain says. “They use their own observations and experiences to develop goals.” “They expect everyone to be a better person,” adds Livingston. It’s worked in her case, she notes: “It’s made me a lot more open-minded about accepting all different kinds of other people.”
This year’s A World of Difference members are: Courtney Atkinson, Ashley Billings, Amanda Bortlein, Riley Brown, Holly Cloutier, Alyssa Collins, Lucey Gagner, Blakely Gilmore, Emily Hammond, Rachel Karner, Morgan Kathan, Hannah Livingston, Dillon Normyle, Newton Rose, and Phoebe Tucker.
Pictured above are Black River High School "A World of Difference" Peer Trainers who presented to 30 middle school students at the “Power of One” Conference in Boston in April of 2011. They are, from left to right: Hannah Livingston, Emily Hammond, Phoebe Tucker, Lucey Gagner, Riley Brown, and Newton Rose.