These teenagers had one thing on their minds when they visited Woodhull Intermediate School on a late spring day. Individually and collectively, members of the group wanted to make “a world of difference” and through hard work, creativity and impressive ingenuity they managed to accomplish all their goals.
Huntington High School’s A World of Difference club, which is more commonly known by the acronym AWOD, promotes anti-bias and diversity programs that allow students to better understand the issues of prejudice and bigotry as well as providing a forum for exploring diverse viewpoints.
The 17 teenage peer trainers and their faculty advisors worked with Woodhull’s entire fifth grade population, participating in workshop and brainstorming sessions designed to encourage, teach, explore and evaluate diversity and bullying issues.
AWOD members kicked off the training by introducing themselves to the fifth graders and giving their personal reasons for joining the club. Early sessions focused on “lending a hand” and creating a safe space for everyone to share ideas. The ground rules for the day were established early and the Woodhull youngsters quickly joined the discussion.
“AWOD is a club that celebrates diversity and social issues that affect us all and it teaches safe ways to be the best person we can be for ourselves and our community,” said teacher Suzie Biagi, who serves as the club’s co-faculty advisor along with Camille DeCanio. “The entire curriculum is written and rehearsed by the trainers themselves after the administrative staff meets with the trainers and talks with them about hot topics relevant to this specific group of students.”
The “cross the line” activity addressed issues and perceptions centered on bullying (including cyber bullying), social media, family, hurtful language and feeling recognized.
“The peer trainers then pulled their younger peers into groups of eight to ten and ‘graffiti boards’ were created based on the ‘cross the line’ responses,” Mrs. Biagi said. Some of the statements written on the poster boards touched upon ways to welcome new classmates as opposed to what not to do, things that you like and don’t like about yourself and “what makes a good friend vs. a bad one”
Once the boards were finalized the peer trainers facilitated a sharing of ideas and opened a dialogue between themselves and the fifth graders. “When time allowed, role plays were acted out by the AWOD members, who demonstrated what not to do in specific situations before volunteers performed a ‘rewind’ that illustrated how to do things the right way,” Mrs. Biagi said.
AWOD’s visit was facilitated by Woodhull Principal Traci Roethel and Assistant Principal Jarrett Stein. Club members are already contemplating next year’s initiatives. A return trip to Woodhull is planned for the spring of 2018.
“Ms. DeCanio and I are thrilled with how the training went this year,” Ms. Biagi said. “We couldn’t be any prouder of our trainers. They worked beautifully together throughout the year, doing in house training sessions every month, helping in the community and fundraising for all the training necessities, including new purple shirts and an AWOD ‘it only takes one to make a difference’ purple bracelet for every single fifth grader.”