03/01/2004

Grant helps students find solutions to prejudice

Mar. 1, 2004 -- A brawl and racial slurs following a Northside High School football game shocked the Louisiana school and its community, and served as a call to action for journalism teacher Ellen Bayless.

Students from St. Thomas More, a predominantly white Catholic school on the south side of town, were accused of referring to Northside High School students as "porch monkeys," and their community as a "welfare recipient's paradise."

Because of the support of its donors, the Teaching Tolerance grants program was able to financially help Bayless develop a program on tolerance, racial prejudice and hate crimes.

"I want to teach my students how to handle situations ethically, professionally and legally," she said. "Responses they learn from television and their peers are not usually appropriate."

Most students, Bayless said, believed they should have responded to the slurs with some sort of physical assault.

To help students deal with incidents like the most recent, Bayless conducted workshops on anger management, conflict resolution and problem solving skills. She encouraged students to submit ideas and problems that could be addressed.

The teenagers used the school newspaper, newsletters and website to publish alternatives to violence. The monthly newsletter contained situations and solutions that focus on classroom behaviors, interpersonal relationships and real-life conflicts that arise or could possibly happen.

"I learned to acknowledge simple standards such as nonviolence to keep things under control and to respect those who are engaged in activities to inspire the true meaning of tolerance," one student wrote.

Northside students also partnered with a local elementary school and demonstrated skills necessary for everyone to show tolerance. They wrote, illustrated and published a related anthology for placement in each elementary and high school.

Since its inception in 1997, the Teaching Tolerance grants program, with the help of Center supporters, has funded nearly 900 innovative classroom projects for educators across the country.