We stand together against bullying, as a school, and as individuals. This powerful message wove its way throughout the classrooms of Far Hills on Unity Day, October 21, 2020. The enthusiasm ran high as students wore orange to recognize the promise to take a stand against bullying and spread kindness throughout our community.
Unity Day is when individuals, schools, communities, and businesses show support for students who have been bullied. This day is the signature event of National Bullying Prevention Month, which was started by the PACER Center in 2011. The PACER Center was established as a resource for parents of children with disabilities. As parents struggled with an inordinate amount of bullying suffered by their children, they came together to create a program against bullying. The National Bullying Prevention Center was launched and, from there, stemmed Unity Day.
Far Hills students celebrated Unity Day with their classmates and teachers. They discussed how they could help prevent bullying and watched a slideshow that focused on taking practical actions to help solve this prevalent problem. Sadly, it is estimated that 1 in 5 children have experienced bullying. Our FH students had some of their own stories to share with their classmates to validate that statistic. Looking for ways to take action positively, the students took a pledge in which they committed to be part of the solution for a kinder, more accepting, and inclusive community. Examples of how students can do this are:
- Support others who have been hurt or harmed.
- Treat others with kindness.
- Be more accepting of people's differences.
- Help include those who are left out.
Always kind. Ms. Hefferan's Kindergarten class created rays of kindness that will shine down on them all year.
All students participated in a classroom activity in which they wrote their own ideas to create a world without bullying. They wrote these on a footstep cut-out, which represented taking steps to make a difference. The concept behind this PACER activity is that every step a person takes individually helps unite all students along the path for kindness, acceptance, and inclusion. The steps are displayed in the hallway leading to the Gymnasium Atrium. Collectively, they create a path toward a world free of bullying. The activity modeled the connection between Far Hills and the Unity Day concepts of kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.
Follow the pillars and make the world a better place.
One of the pillars in the FH Code of Character is kindness. Students learn the importance of this character trait within our community from their first days at Far Hills. They are reminded that it is a fundamental part of making our community and the world a better place. Our additional pillars— respect, honesty, leadership, and responsibility—mirror the actions of kindness. There is an expectation of our students to uphold the pillars every day. These guiding pillars provide the momentum for students to be cognizant of their words and actions and to nurture empathy. Our newly elected Student Government officers have also committed to a focus on unity and inclusion activities throughout the year.
"U" is for unity.
The conversation about acceptance and inclusion can continue at home. The common thread among Far Hills families is the belief in the values of the pillars. The responsibility falls on the adult to initiate authentic conversations about these topics. Children seem to have an innate ability to recognize when an adult is authentic...or not. As children ask questions about sensitive topics, they expect a genuine response. However, in an effort to protect children, adults often try to soften or neutralize the severity of a situation resulting in an inauthentic response. It can be hard to gauge what a child can handle. The bottom line is that a conversation may be uncomfortable, but it is important to have nonetheless. Opting out of sensitive conversations is delivering the message that those topics are taboo. Some people do not have the choice of opting out of those conversations because they are living them. A child's own experiences are exposing them to these conversational topics. Engaging in responsible, fact-based discussions helps children embrace differences and engage with expanding their knowledge and becoming more accepting and inclusive.
Answer questions, even when it's uncomfortable, to remain a trusted resource.
Take the time to bring diversity into children's worlds and encourage their curiosity. Remember that the willingness to have these discussions demonstrates a personal recognition that differences are accepted and embraced. Initiate sharing information and celebrating accomplishments of people who have struggled to overcome adversity as survivors and fighters, not to separate them from others as victims. Be the catalyst to a new perspective.
The experiences that young people have will impact how they grow and their choices in the future. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, EdD, explained that adults need to help students develop thinking patterns and interrelatedness to become citizens of the future. People have stories that they tell themselves to make sense of the world. Any story that endures has an emotional component. Thinking deeply is telling complex, emotional stories to yourself. Stereotypes of people are stories people create in their minds. It is through culturally responsive parenting that diffusion of stereotypes can happen. Be aware of the stories children are hearing and make sure they have the lasting effect of possibility.
It is a responsibility of significant magnitude to be the deliverer of these critical messages. A place to start is by understanding your own unconscious biases. The Harvard Project Implicit test provides various self-administered tests to determine an individual's attitudes and beliefs. Additionally, it is worth spending time to understand the lens by which an individual self identifies. Is it gender, age, race, religion, ability, socioeconomic status, body type, sexual orientation, immigration status, home language? Where did these identities originate in a person's life and how does membership in these different identities impact a person's life? As people view themselves through various identities, they gain a more clear perspective into the connections they make to others and the world.
As the Far Hills community takes on the challenge of expanding a child's world, let us model the words we speak. The enthusiasm of the students when discussing Unity topics and language was powerful. One student defined acceptance as "accepting somebody for who they are and not excluding anybody"—a brilliant description from a compassionate child. While the message is clear about taking a stand against bullying, the challenge is to be present by living a life that reflects kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.
Fifth-Grade Teacher and DEI Coordinator