Junior High Students Examine Intolerance

Gretchen Losi, Daily Press (Victorville, Cal.), Nov. 18

VICTORVILLE—Hatred based on color, race, sexual orientation and other differences is an issue students at Victor Valley Junior High School dealt with head-on Thursday.

The experience forced students to look deep within themselves. Although the morning left some in tears and emotionally exhausted, the hope was that all walked away better equipped with tools they can use to promote tolerance in their community.

“After today we won’t be able to judge a book by its cover,” 13-year old Kimberley Avalos said.

Nearly 100 students took part in the school’s Unity Forum, a morning filled with different exercises that prompted discussions forcing them to see one another beyond the color of their skin. It was designed to provide insights into their peers’ attitudes and feelings, breaking down stereotypes and allowing them to identify better with one another.

Students listen to one of the presentations during the Unity Forum held at Victor Valley Junior High School in Victorville.

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By year’s end each student in the school is expected to go through the program.

“The earlier we get them to not judge one another, the better,” Principal Rich Rojas said. “If they continue to use these skills through high school, the more tolerant citizens they will become.”

One of the most powerful exercises broke down walls of ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds. It allowed students to see that no matter what walk of life they come from, they had more in common with one another than they thought—once they “Crossed the Line.”

In this activity, students lined-up against a wall. A teacher would ask a personal question on topics including race, rape, abuse and suicide. Students able to relate with the question would then walk to the center of the room and face the others left behind. Students said it was emotional at times and shocking at others.

“I had a couple kids come up to me because of issues that were stirred during the activity,” Schwin said. “Usually we have five to 10 kids we have to pull aside.”

When students were asked if they had been labeled something they’re not based on their ethnicity, some 80 percent of the students crossed the line. While 70 percent said they had a friend commit suicide or attempt suicide, 25 percent said they had attempted it themselves. Twenty-five percent said they felt unsafe in their neighborhood and 95 percent said they had been picked on by others.

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