Students Honored for Promoting Tolerance

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MEDFORD, Ore. – Middle school can be a tough time for students, with a new school, new work, and a bigger challenge making friends. Some students at Hedrick Middle School remember how lonely it felt just trying to find someone to eat lunch with.

“I had to sit with my brother for a while,” said 8th grader Makenna Peters.

Peters and other members of the Hedrick student council saw how easily cliques were being made, and how quickly bullies seemed to pop up. So they decided to do something about it.

“We didn’t like how many people were eating alone at the beginning of the year,” said 8th grader Kiley Pauck. “Especially at the beginning of the year when there are so many new people.”

So the student council started a new program to simple get students talking. They developed theme days in the school cafeteria. On Superhero Day, for example, some students were given cards with heroes like Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man printed on them. They would be directed to sit at a cafeteria table labeled with the same card, along with many students they had never met or talked to. As a result, it started a conversation between those students, and friendships were sparked.

“I think you just need to start with conversation, like, ‘hey, what do you like to do with your free time? What’s your favorite class in school?’” Peters said.

Hedrick was honored by the Teaching Tolerance program, put on by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as one of 75 schools across the U.S. that have pushed for tolerance and respect among students.

“The more students are known and feel known and have a chance to be known in a school, the less likely they are to be bullied or to be a [bully],” said Principal Dan Smith.

The Hedrick student council will travel to the Oregon Association of Student Councils spring conference later this month, and will teach their program to 50 other schools from across Oregon.