Clayton High School students stepped out of their usual routine to spend a morning this week taking part in a conversation that is important to the fabric of their school community. The entire student population participated in the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “A Classroom of Difference” anti-bias training program on March 7-8. This national program focuses on addressing issues of bias and bullying while developing an inclusive culture and respectful school climate.
Clayton High School administrators have been partnering with the St. Louis chapter of the ADL since December to address incidents of students using social media to post hurtful, hateful messages, some of which have been anti-Semitic. These incidents, combined with concerning local and national headlines with similar sentiments, led administrators to commit to providing a full morning of reflective, constructive conversation among CHS students.
“The Classroom of Difference program provided our students with an invaluable opportunity to engage in conversations that increase our collective awareness of all forms of bias,” said CHS Principal Dr. Dan Gutchewsky. “We have made a commitment to continuing this work on a long-term basis, and the feedback our administration received through this training will be critical in planning our next steps for moving our school community forward.”
The Classroom of Difference training addresses many different forms of bias, including religious, gender, racial and political bias. Through small group breakout sessions led by ADL facilitators, students had the opportunity to address the bias they see in their school and community and talk about the causes and solutions. After spending time in small groups, students convened in the CHS auditorium to debrief their conversations and discuss their hopes and fears about creating a more inclusive learning community at CHS.
“The classroom is meant to be a marketplace of ideas where different opinions can be shared openly,” said senior Marysia Hyrc. “And teachers must be taught to respect all viewpoints, not just the popular ones, to ensure all students throughout the Clayton School District can achieve education in a safe and diverse environment.”
Though each student representative shared a different opinion about what must happen for real change to take place, they all agreed the onus falls on the part of students, teachers and the administrators at both the high school and District level alike.
“This is about self-growth… So let’s agree to take this opportunity and better ourselves,” said senior Taylor Edlin. Classmate Elizabeth Poor added, “And part of that is not just self-reflection, but it’s also supporting others in our community and recognizing discrimination, whether it’s microaggression or larger forms of discrimination. We need to comfort and support those in our community, whether we’re affected directly by discrimination or not. It’s a community action that needs to take place.”
Addressing issues related to bias of any kind is never an easy task, nor can a solution take place in a single morning. However, the Classroom of Difference program is an important first step in propelling this work forward. By making a commitment to continuing these efforts on an ongoing basis, CHS students and staff are working toward making their school community an even better, more inclusive place to learn.