Everyone knows about “safe spaces”: the rooms in a school or college where students can discuss issues openly, free from epithets, putdowns or other attacks.
That’s important, of course. A new program at Staples High School aims to provide a special place to connect, feel comfortable and grow.
But “Connections” — the innovative, twice-weekly project that will keep small groups of students connected with staff members throughout their 4 years on campus — hopes to go one step further.
The goal is to create “brave spaces.” That’s where teenagers and teachers can do more than discuss bias incidents like swastikas or hurtful comments.
It’s where they can think critically about them, learn from them — and learn how to talk about them, openly and honestly and directly.
“Connections” helps students reflect on what it means to be a community member making a difference. It was in the works before Stafford Thomas was named principal, but he has embraced the concept and put the full weight of his position behind it.
Educators — even at Staples — have not always been trained in how to lead discussions of bias and hate. They may feel uncomfortable, and worry that students may feel uncomfortable too.
Marji Lipshez-Shapiro knows those feelings well. “It takes a lot for people to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and uncomfortable with what can be too uncomfortable,” says the deputy director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Connecticut chapter.
She’s spent nearly 30 years running professional development workshops for teachers, through the ADL. For “Connections,” she designed a special one — much more targeted to the program, to Westport as a community, and to Staples as a school.
“Every school has bias incidents,” she notes. “Too often the district doesn’t want anyone to hear about them. They sweep them under the rug, and they become ‘lumpy carpets.'”
Swastikas and other symbols pop up in bathroom stalls. Racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments are made in hallways, cafeterias and before class.
The ADL program used case studies: actual examples from schools nationwide. They could happen here too.
“We want educators to have tools, to be proactive and reactive,” Lipshez-Shapiro says. “The ‘Connections’ discussions are about prevention and intervention. When there is an incident, we want everyone to learn from it. After all, this is school!”
Lauren Francese — the Westport Public Schools’ 6-12 social studies coordinator, who helped design the workshop — says that it will help all teachers talk about challenging topics, in the classroom as well as during “Connections.”
Lipshez-Shapiro agrees. What happens, she asks rhetorically, when a teacher overhears a boy tell a friend he’d take a girl to the prom “only if she puts a paper bag on her head”?
“When do you challenge that statement? When do you not say anything?” she says. “Silence is what does harm. But lots of people are afraid of saying the ‘wrong’ thing, or coming down too hard.”
The ADL workshop gave teachers tools to begin nuanced conversations. That way, Lifshez-Shapiro says, they can help students “not just stand up, be brave and say ‘Don’t say that,’ but go beyond.”
In the Staples session, she asked educators to think about their own favorite teachers. What qualities did they have?
And when they were in school themselves, she continued, how did you feel like you belonged? How did you feel when you did not belong?
She also asked teachers to share their own best practices. “These are gifted professionals,” she notes. “They’re already doing excellent things.”
“Every high school needs to do this,” Lipshez-Shapiro says.
Thomas — the new principal — agrees.
He calls the training “timely and especially helpful in preparing our teachers and ultimately our students in navigating brave conversations in a responsible and, most importantly, productive manner.
“It was extremely well received, based on the feedback data. I believe this training and continued assistance from the ADL in the future will go a long way to cultivate a caring and nurturing school community.” He echoed those sentiments at Back to School Night.
“Our teachers were really engaged and energized by these conversations,” Francese adds. “They’re the starting point for making Staples a safer — and braver — space.”
great article. I support and agree with the ADL. Read what the ADL has said about Trumps frequent comments. Read about the incidence of anti semitic events since Trump has entered office. Read what the ADL said about Trumps go back home comments and tweet. I find it incredible that people can support Trump and the republican party for the anti semitic behavior by Trump. I urge 06880 to read ADL many statements and feedback on the Trump administration behavior. Even more upsetting to me ius how orthodox rabbis and Jews support Trump. I recall the swatsticka tweet Trump piublished on H.Clinton with the money sign and not to mention the numerous attacks on George Soros. I am thankful the ADL is helping educate our students. That is a mitzva
I find your comment to be interesting, though seemingly non related, factually incorrect and emotionally based…
The tweet was not a “swastika” but what looked like the Star Of David and was removed after some interpreted it as “Dog Whistle” Anti Semitism.
Meanwhile, besides having a Jewish daughter, Trump the “Anti – Semite” has received the following honors from Jewish organizations over the years…
1. Humanitarian Award by the National Jewish Health (1976)
2. Tree of Life Award by the Jewish National Fund (1983)
3. The Algemeiner Liberty Award for contributions to Israel–United States relations (2015)
4. Friends of Zion Award by The Friends of Zion Museum (2017)
5. Temple Coin featuring Trump (alongside King Cyrus) from the Mikdash Educational Center in honor of Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
And Prime Minister Netanyahu called him a “true friend” of Israel…
So, all these Jewish Organizations and the Prime Minister are wrong, while your misguided and factually incorrect interpretation of a tweet is correct.
Makes sense….you’ve convinced me.
I guess the Anti Defamation League is wrong. They have publicly rebuked Trump. The fact that he has a daughter that is a Jewish convert is meaningless. It is the actions,behavior,and words of a person that are significant. Trump is endorsed by the KKK, David Duke,and white supremacists. If you read my post,i mentioned how orthodox Jews and orthodox rabbis liked him. However lets review some facts about Jewish voting according to Pew Research. 70 to 80,percent of Jews vote democratic. Yes there are rabbis and large groups of Jews that give awards to Trump. True. There are ignorant and bigoted Jews that are Rabbis and attend synagogue. I did volunteer work for Chabad and participated with the Chabad rabbi some time ago. After I confronted the rabbi over several bigoted statements he made in front of me about Hispanic people I quit my volunteer work with him. He needed help moving some items. I got the rabbi 2 latino workers with a van. The men did the work and I told the rabbi he needed to pay the men $17 an hour. He said they are latinos and and should get $8 per hour. This happened about 10 years ago. They supplied the truck and gas and moved several heavy items. He made several derogatory comments about minorities. I reported this to the president of the congregation who did nothing and kept it quiet. He may be an ordained rabbi. Does that make him a righteous pious man? He knows the prayers. He can recite them quickly. Does that make the rabbi a man of Torah? I judge people by words,behavior,and actions. I just read about Swatstika reported at Staples. How often does anti semitic incidents happen at Westport schools. I remember the incident at the lacross game at Staples where Fairfield prep students shouted anti semitic words in a chant. In Wilton students yelled build a wall when playing soccer with a team that had latino players. Mr Stalling, I am aligned with the ADL. I am aligned witjh 70 to 80 per cent of Jews who vote democratic. MR Stalling, you never mentioned what the ADL has said about Trump. Read about the ADL and Trump. I urge all 06880 readers to search out the responses the ADL has made about Trump. I urge all rabbis to talk to their congregations on the ADL response to Trump. Mr Stalling , kindly respond to what the ADL says about Trump. Reference the ADL. Make your response specific to the ADL.
I wonder how much Trump contributed to these organizations in order to receive the awards.
I just read a quote which feels connected to this article & program: (and of course, substitute “person” for “man” to make it intentionally inclusive)
“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.” -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (12 Sep 1880-1956)
There is a recent exposes about Jerry Falwell,Someone Gotta tell the Freakin Truth ,by Brandon Ambrosino, in politico. It shows how religious leaders wjho are thought to moral leaders of society can be just another thug, a sexual deviant., liar, hypocrisy ,and more. Thats why Trump and Falwell run around abusing the world for their self interest. They are charlatans. Thank goodness that the ADL studies and examines our leaders and not only represents the American Jews but represents good ethical conduct for the USA. I am thankful for the ADL. I am glad the ADL worked with Staples students. Republican mothers , when your children go to school and have drills for shooting lock downs, how to you feel about this? Think about little children attending 06880 schools,kneeling down under tables,inside closes, learning how to behave in school from terror. Youmlike this? Vote republican if you do. Republicans, the party of the Snake Jerry Falwell, David Duke, the KKK, white supremacists,and military kiiling rifles for the common man,.