By Kristin Schultz
At a time when ratcheting up the rancor is the order of the day, Niskayuna schools are just saying “no” to hurtful rhetoric and behavior.
Students, teachers and principals attended a ceremony in Albany to receive their official “No Place for Hate” designation. A program by the Anti-Defamation League, No Place for Hate encourages schools to engage students in activities and dialogue to create a more understanding environment. To receive the designation, a school must hold at least three events to promote unity and respect.
Niskayuna High School signed on to work toward the designation based on the administration’s desire to assess the learning environment and based on input from student leadership.
“We want to make sure all the students are embraced and appreciated,” said assistant high school Principal Eva Jones.
A variety of activities took place over the last school year. There was an anti-bullying assembly, student training and school-wide classroom discussions.
The No Place for Hate Committee at the high school was headed by teacher Monica DiCocco and students from the SAPE club.
“We are trying to spread the message and help others understand that we each play a role in creating and maintaining a positive environment,” wrote DiCocco. “It doesn’t take much to positively impact others, it can [and should] be done through small gestures and kind words daily. A simple smile, a ‘thank you,’ or holding the door open for someone can make a difference. A No Place for Hate school should be a place where students and staff support and encourage one another each day to be the best version of themselves and make positive contributions to our community through their actions and decisions.”
It was not just the high school that committed to creating a positive environment. Van Antwerp Middle School also won the distinction through a combination of activities the school normally puts on as well as new events. All the students signed the No Place for Hate pledge as well.
“The program is a way to look at everything we’re doing and incorporate those things into a purposeful program,” said Principal Luke Rakoczy.
Van Antwerp hosted a diversity dance over the winter. It was open to all 6th through 8th graders. Students spent the first hour of the dance rotating through classrooms, participating in presentations and discussions like understanding bias, student identity, common interests and how to be a support if someone is being bullied.
Then the more than 100 students strapped on their dancing shoes and enjoyed an evening of tunes spun by school counselors, as well as cupcakes and other treats.
“A No Place for Hate school is safe and welcoming no matter who you are or where you come from,” said Rakoczy.
The principal intends to continue promoting diversity and a safe school environment for all students.
“This is who we are and we’re dedicated to it,” Rakoczy said. “This has been a good experience for our building and a really good way for us to be purposeful and systematic in creating a safe, welcoming environment.”
All five Niskayuna elementary schools received No Place for Hate designations along with Van Antwerp Middle School and Niskayuna High School.
The schools were recognized at a ceremony in Albany in late May. Additionally, high schooler Casey Sims was awarded the High School Gold Star Student Award and Van Antwerp student Sandra Sunil was recognized for her nomination as the Middle School Gold Star Student Award.