Northwest NEWS

April 15, 2002

Features

*

Journey to acceptance begins at WHS

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   About twenty high school students sit in a circle in Mrs. Hockley's classroom.
   "Using derogatory terms is like a habit," a student says.
   "Parents sometimes have the habit," another adds.
   "I'm so used to hearing it in the halls," a girl says with a tone of exasperation, then goes on to say, "If you say 'don't use that word, it really offends me,' others will say 'shut up, you're being so over dramatic.'"
   It's Tuesday, March 26, and the first "Journey to Acceptance Day" at Woodinville High School (WHS). Fourteen hundred students, divided into small groups in 53 classrooms, participate in discussion-based activities. In each group, students talk about ways to create a more accepting environment at their school.
   The two-hour session began with an introduction about the purpose for the day's event, followed by the showing of a documentary film titled, "Journey to a Hate Free Millennium."
   The film deals with the repercussions of hate crimes and seeks to prevent future acts of hate. It features examples from the headlines, such as the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Texas, the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colo. When the film concluded, the students in the 53 classrooms moved their desks out of the way and formed a circle with their chairs.
   Ryan Sargent, a WHS junior serves as one of the two discussion facilitators in Mrs. Hockley's room. He has been leading the group in a discussion of disrespectful language at school.
   He asks, "As a high school, what is more effective: having your teacher say something to the student (about using derogatory terms) or having your friends say something?"
   The group responds in unison, "Friends."
   Sargent asks, "Do you think it's possible to do that?"
   "Maybe not," someone says while another student interjects, "Honestly, realistically, I don't know if the cycle can be broken."
   Across the room, a student comments, "If you can't break it, you can shrink it."
   Several days later, Mary Britton-Simmons, English Dept. Chair, hears of the student's suggestion of shrinking the cycle.
   "That's a good analogy," she says. Britton-Simmons is co-advisor with Alison Ray and Christine Traxler of an on-campus group called FADE (Falcons Against Discrimination Everywhere). The group is dedicated to increasing the awareness of diversity and respect for all students. "It's an amazing group of kids," she says. "They're kids that really care about other people. They're willing to give a lot of their time and energy for everyone."
   The club was founded about six years ago and has held a Diversity Week annually until this year. As past examples, the Week has focused on religious diversity and on students who have special disabilities or learning differences. FADE wants to promote the message that all students are valuable. They also want to bring an awareness of others' needs. As one example, the students sold fortune cookies last year. The cookies didn't contain the regular fortune inscriptions. Instead, the WHS fortune cookies held messages like, "Fifty percent of the world goes to bed hungry.'
   FADE students decided last summer to do something different in place of Diversity Week this year. They discussed the possibilities over breakfast at Britton-Simmons' home, staying five or six hours that day. At a later date, the students attended a two-hour presentation at the Seattle Opera House where the documentary film "Journey to a Hate Free Millennium" was presented.
   "Gail Olson (business teacher) arranged for us to bring about 56 kids down there. The kids thought the movie was powerful," Britton-Simmons says. "It shows what hate can do to individuals and to a community."
   The students decided to present the movie as a kick-off for a "Journey to Acceptance Day" at WHS. A student committee formed, working every Thursday for four hours preparing a script for the day.
   On March 15, student facilitators were taken through the script step-by-step during a half-day training session.
   Of the chosen facilitators, Britton-Simmons says, "We wanted kids who model accepting, positive behavior." Cottage Lake Presbyterian Church in Woodinville wanted to help and donated money which was used to purchase T-shirts for the facilitators to wear. Each shirt read: "The journey begins with me."
   On the day of the "Journey to Acceptance" event, each facilitator began with an introduction: "Good morning. The purpose of this event is to create a dialogue among students. By looking at what hate crimes can do ..... we hope to create a more accepting environment at WHS ...."
   In a phone interview a week later, facilitator Sargent explains FADE's three specific goals on the day of the event.
   "First, we wanted our fellow students to be aware of discriminatory issues at Woodinville High School through their own discussion. Second, we wanted to show students that change begins on a personal level. And third, we wanted to initiate change on the individual level." He then adds, "I think the first two goals were accomplished."
   He says that everyone in his group contributed and that he's aware of some students who were affected by the event and have since made a change.
   Danielle DeKraker, senior and co-facilitator in Mrs. Hockley's room also commented over the phone afterward.
   She says the event raised student awareness for a more accepting and positive school community.
   "The goal of the day was to get people to start talking about it and raise their awareness and I think we achieved that.
   "Of course there's a lot more work to be done to make a permanent change. But I think we did have a good start and got people talking."
   Britton-Simmons speaks to the benefits of an accepting school environment, "You don't have to agree with a person's life-style and ideas, but we ask you to respect his/her right to be who he/she is. Woodinville High School should be a place where all students and staff feel safe and respected."