Safe School Ambassadors school nationally recognized for its tolerance efforts

May 31 2011

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  • Geo Howard, Operations & IT Manager
    Geo Howard
    Operations & IT Manager

Mesa Linda Middle School, a southern California school who launched the Safe School Ambassadors (SSA) program in November 2010 was nationally recognized for its tolerance efforts. The school was chosen from over 3,000 schools across the nation and designated a Mix It Up Model School by The Southern Poverty Law Center.  “We are delighted to recognize Mesa Linda Middle School,” said Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello. “Mix It Up Model Schools have found innovative ways to create a school environment where respect and inclusiveness are core values. They serve as examples for other schools hoping to instill these values in their students, faculty and staff.”  Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, launched the Mix It Up program in 2002.

By asking students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch, the event encourages students to identify, question and cross social boundaries. Many schools plan activities for the entire day, and some use the event to kick off a yearlong exploration of social divisions. Last year, more than 3,300 schools took part.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., is a nonprofit civil rights organization that combats bigotry and discrimination through litigation, education and advocacy. Mix It Up is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, which aims to reduce prejudice and improve intergroup relations in the nation’s classrooms and communities.

Community Matters was able to provide Mesa Linda Middle School with full SSA program funding thanks to its strategic partnership with Institute for Advancing Unity and the Southern California Schools Risk Management JPA.

On April 11, 2011 Principal Douglas Newton wrote a letter to Community Matters:

 

Dear Rick Phillips and Chris Pack,

Mesa Linda Middle School was fortunate to be able to launch the Safe School Ambassador (SSA) program for the 2010-2011 school year. As principal, I had seen a need for a program to empower students to make better choices to avoid conflict and other unwanted behavior. We had experienced a large number of fights and excessive bullying - even after implementing strong anti-bullying consequences. The “girl drama” was pervasive and not a day went by without major incidents. I was disheartened and dismayed by the climate on campus.

Upon hearing about SSA, I immediately began the process to become a SSA school. All pertinent paperwork was submitted, and since grant funding was available, I meticulously completed that paperwork and was pleased when we were selected. In October a process was introduced to seek nominations from staff for student candidates to be Safe School Ambassadors. Seventy were nominated to apply, and forty were selected. In addition to the forty students trained, 10 adults were trained as family group facilitators.

The two day training was a powerful time. Most participants had never had the opportunity to openly discuss intolerance that they had observed and/or experienced. The trainers skillfully presented activities, both serious and fun and met the SSA goal to, “Empower leaders from the diverse groups and cliques on campus and equip them with nonviolent communication and intervention skills to stop bullying and violence among their peers.”

Since the training, the family groups have met twice per month to report on their interactions with peers to alleviate school bullying and violence. While I can’t say that we no longer have incidents, I can say that the program has had a positive impact on Mesa Linda. The very day that training was completed, a student used the strategies learned to influence a student to walk away from a conflict. I can’t tell you how proud he was to have had such influence by merely saying a few words to discourage the other student from fighting. The impact on other ambassadors has also been very significant. Some of our ambassadors indicate that they now view things differently than before and understand how influential peer-to-peer communication can be.

It is my desire to continue and expand this powerful program. It has made a positive difference in a short amount of time, and I can only imagine what the future impact will be as the school culture continues to change.


    Douglas Newton, Principal
    Rachel Jauss, Dean
    Mesa Linda Middle School
    Victorville, California



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