Student summit at Capitol addresses school bullying

Mary Ellen Knewtson

On Wednesday more than 400 eighth-grade students left the Capitol with new tools to combat the bullying and discrimination they may face in their middle schools.

The No Place For Hate Youth Summit gives middle school student representatives a chance to have conversations about bullying, stereotyping and prejudice, said assistant project director Megan Flowers.

Two hundred students attended the first day of the two-day summit and another 200 are expected to attend the second. Almost 60 schools sent eighth-graders as representatives.

“The kids leave here pretty jazzed up,” Flowers said.

Flowers said the day was structured as a series of small sessions in which groups of 20 students from different middle schools participated in exercises to learn about prejudice, bullying and stereotypes. Wednesday’s event marked the first No Place For Hate Youth Summit, but is a continuation of the Prejudice Awareness Summit, he said.

One of the activities in a summit session required four students to step out of the room as the other 16 were instructed to form four circles and not allow the people in the hallway to join. Cedar Valley Middle School student Andrew Huet said this activity is an accurate representation of events that occur at his school from time to time.

“People really do purposefully ignore certain other people,” he said.

Huet plans on trying to pay more attention to bullying and doing what he can to prevent it.

No Place For Hate is a program put on by the Anti-Defamation League that is celebrating its 10th anniversary in Texas and its seventh year in Austin. Schools can receive the “No Place For Hate” designation by conducting three projects consistent with the goals of the program. For example, schools can host “mix-it-up” day at lunch, where students are required to sit with a different group than usual.

Lisa Hellmer, a counselor at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School and a faculty representative at the summit, said education programs that teach about accepting diversity have always been a passion of hers. She brought seven eighth-graders, who were selected based on essays they had written, to the event.

“The expectation is that these seven students will go back and implement the strategies they learned,” she said.