Unit 5 Teachers Seek Welcome Declaration

Baylee Steelman


Teachers from Unit 5’s high schools are asking the school board to declare the district a welcoming environment for immigrant students and teachers.

Normal West teacher John Bierbaum, Normal Community teacher Patrick Lawler and NCHS freshman Aditi Sharma spoke to the school board Wednesday evening about passing a measure to declare Unit 5 schools safe learning environments for students regardless of their immigration status.

Bierbaum said feelings of safety are taken for granted by students who aren't immigrants or have immigrant parents.

"I assure you my conversations with faculty members, different colleagues and students ... they don't take it for granted," said Bierbaum. "It impacts them every single day, and they know where to go to for safety and they are measuring that every single day of their life."

Bierbaum said teachers in the district are here to educate students no matter who they are or where they come from. Sharma told the school board that students have diverse religions and ethnicities. She said no one should feel unsafe going to school.

"I'm an immigrant myself, and I came here from India," said Sharma. "I look forward to school because it's a place where I can learn and also have fun with my friends. I want everyone to (like) school like I do and not be scared because of their immigration status."

Board member David Fortner prepared a speech for the meeting. He said educators have a duty to bring wisdom to their communities.

"Let's love these children regardless of who they are, where they're from, or any perceived wrongs or mistakes their parents might have made. Let's love these children,” he said.

Board member Meta Mickens-Baker praised the resolution. She said students and faculty are working to build a culture of inclusion.

The effort to emphasize the district as a safe welcoming learning space for immigrants comes amid national controversy over immigration policy. District 87 schools implemented a similar measure a month ago.

The Unit 5 school board reviewed a draft version of the resolution Wednesday. It will return to the board for formal action next month.

Local Educators Emphasize Commitment to NIOTBN Goals

Education – of the public, of youth, of policymakers and officials – is key to eliminating bigotry, discrimination, and bullying. In conjunction with the Feb. 2 Solidarity Rally in Bloomington, local educators offered their support for NIOTBN and Not In Our School and their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and community security.

Unit 5

The Unit 5 Board of Education, together with students and faculty across our district and the community, resolve to stand up against bullying and intolerance and actively work to make our schools free from discrimination and hatred. 

We promote safety, inclusion, and acceptance in each and every building. Unit 5 students and staff members come from a variety of different backgrounds and speak more than 40 different languages. That diversity enhances the culture throughout the district. Regardless of background, we strive to educate each of our students to achieve personal excellence. 

Unit 5 enjoys an excellent relationship with Not in Our Town and hosts several Not in our School chapters, and will continue to build on that relationship.

District 87

District 87 supports the mission of Not In Our Town to work together to stop hate, bullying, and build safe, inclusive environments for all.  Part of our mission states that we will promote mutual respect and have an appreciation for student and staff diversity. 

As the most diverse pre-K through 12 district in McLean County, we take pride in our diversity and see it as a strength of the community.  We stand together with Not In Our Town to support students from all backgrounds.

Regional Office of Education No. 17

The Regional Office of Education No. 17 partners with many advocacy groups, including Not in Our Schools, to deliver the message that diversity, tolerance and safety for all of our students and staff in the school districts we serve is paramount.

We support efforts to promote acceptance and eliminate discrimination and bullying and will continue to do so.

Illinois Wesleyan University

Illinois Wesleyan University remains strongly committed to providing a supportive environment in which each of our students can become confident, participatory members of a global society.

We define ourselves as a diverse, inclusive and welcoming campus, with the understanding that education in the context of diversity – whether diversity of nationality, race, religion or thought – creates the richest learning environment. We respect and value our fellow students, educators and staff across geographic and cultural boundaries, and stand with institutions of higher learning throughout the country in insisting that it is critical that the United States continues to welcome scholars of all backgrounds and nationalities.

Heartland Community College

Heartland Community College is committed to being a welcoming and inclusive institution where all students, employees, and visitors are regarded with respect and dignity in a safe and secure environment.

As expressed by longstanding Policy, Heartland Community College provides equal educational opportunities to all students and equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, marital status, status as a veteran, or any other protected status under federal, state or local laws.

Existing Policy further states that the College expressly prohibits any form of harassment in the learning and working environment, including but not limited to, sexual harassment and harassment based on any status or condition protected by applicable law, rule or regulation.

Illinois Study Shows Sexual Harassment, Homophobia More Common in Middle Schools

An increasing number of middle school students are becoming victims of verbal sexual harassment such as comments, jokes or gestures, a study has found.

In the study, the team followed 1,300 children from middle school to high school in Illinois, and found that nearly half -- 43 per cent -- of the middle school students had been the victims of verbal sexual harassment such as sexual comments, jokes or gestures during the prior year.

"Sexual harassment among adolescents is directly related to bullying, particularly homophobic bullying," said Dorothy L. Espelage, professor at the University of Florida.

Homophobic name-calling emerges among fifth and sixth grade bullies as a means of asserting power over other students, Espelage said.

Youths who are the targets of homosexual name-calling and jokes then feel compelled to demonstrate they are not gay or lesbian by sexually harassing peers of the opposite sex.

While verbal harassment was more common than physical harassment or sexual assault, students also reported having been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way.

Some also said peers had brushed up against them in a suggestive manner.

Students also reported being forced to kiss the perpetrators, having their private areas touched without consent and being "pantsed" -- having their pants or shorts jerked down by someone else in public.

Many reported having been the target of sexual rumours and victimised with sexually explicit graffiti in school locker rooms or bathrooms, the study revealed.

Furthermore, 14 per cent of students were found to negate the 'upsetting experiences' by writing that their peers' behaviour was "not really sexual harassment" because the incidents were "meaningless" or intended as jokes.

The children who were dismissive of sexual harassment experiences were more likely to perpetrate homophobic name-calling, the researchers observed.

"Students failed to recognise the seriousness of these behaviours because teachers and school officials failed to address them. Prevention programmes need to address what is driving this dismissiveness," Espelage noted in the paper published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review.

NIOS Highlights School Efforts During Campus Conference

Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal-Not In Our School outlined recent efforts to create a safer, more inclusive scholastic environment during Monday's Culturally Responsive Campus Community conference at Illinois State University.

Forty-two high school and college students -- including Normal West Community High School senior Anniah Watson and Normal Community High School senior Aishwayra Shekara, as well as faculty members attended the afternoon session in ISU's Old Main Room. College participants were primarily social work and education majors; Jessica Jackson, a Normal West Project Oz specialist who has sponsored NIOS along with Normal West social studies teacher John Bierbaum, reviewed racism, homophobia, and other concerns as well as ongoing anti-bullying/anti-bigotry initiatives at West.

NIOT/NIOS presenters highlighted a number of recent activities aimed at fostering inclusivity in area schools, including:

Operation Beautiful, a website that offered NIOS students at Normal Community the inspiration to write positive messages on post it notes and put one on each student's locker for them to find when they arrived at school the next morning.

In Their Words,  NIOS students at Normal West shared negative experiences such as name calling and teacher-ignored issues and their impact via a video shared with faculty.

Basketball game fundraiser. NIOS students raised funds to support a local mental health agency by holding a staff vs students  game at Normal West. At the admission table, individuals were asked to sign a NIOT pledge card

Pledge card drives. Both high schools have conducted additional pledge card drives.

School NIOS banners designed by the NIOT Marketing Committee. School districts have purchased them for each NIOT partner schools. In addition, posters that mirror the banners are available and being displayed in NIOS partner classrooms.

Culture Showcase. NIOS students at Normal West who organized a talent/sharing of culture show at Normal West H.S. in May 2016.

Culture Fair. NIOS students at Normal Community organized a fair during lunch time that featured foods, dress, and facts from various cultures.

Identifying safe people and places to talk. As students reveal issues at their schools (particularly the high school), they need to know who they can trust to share things that are happening to them. NIOT/NIOS is assisting in helping students identify those individuals.

The theme for this week's CCRC conference, Poking the Bear: Uniting to Challenge Systems of Oppression, focused on aspects of the community that continue to adversely affect some of the groups within it.

District 87 Taps Expertise To Address Social Media, Bullying

While Oakland Elementary School Principal David LaFrance reported bullying-related issues are “always a focus every year,” Bloomington’s District 87 is placing an expanded emphasis on the impact the Information Age – social media, cyberbullying, and the like – is having on students. the district also has hired a social media specialist to explore growing online concerns, he said.

“We have really looked at that avenue, and how we can support and be proactive and teach kids how to be appropriate with their use of the Internet and computers, because of the influence of social media and how it can influence bullying and truly hurt people,” LaFrance noted during Unit 5’s recent participation in the annual back-to-school West Side Block Party.

“Sometimes, kids make mistakes and make choices without realizing that the one thing you do, quickly, with the touch of a button, they can go out to everyone, and it’s forever.”

The addition of a technology specialist coincides with plans to roll out 1,300 new computers at Bloomington High School. The district is renowned for “one of the finest technology departments in the state,” with a BHS-based “iCloud” program that is helping shape school technologies across the state and, increasingly, the U.S.

Oakland Elementary School has implemented the SchoolReach CyberBully HotlineTM. The purpose of this program is to create an anonymous, two-way means for students, parents, guardians and others to report incidents of bullying, harassment, intimidation and information on potential harmful or violent acts by others. Oakland's CyberBully Hotline number is 309-232-8087.

LaFrance and others also continue to communicate the basics. Anti-bullying education begins with teaching students “how you should treat people in relationships,” addressing image issues that particularly affect older students, and “celebrating differences,” he said.

“Everybody has a story, and your story’s going to be different from mine, and that’s what makes us unique,” LaFrance stressed.

Study: Campaign Rhetoric Spurring Bullying, Fear in Schools

A survey of approximately 2,000 teachers by the Southern Poverty Law Center indicates that the presidential campaign is having a profoundly negative impact on schoolchildren across the country, according to a report released today.

The report – The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools – found that the campaign is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported.

Teachers also reported an increase in the bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates.

“We’re deeply concerned about the level of fear among minority children who feel threatened by both the incendiary campaign rhetoric and the bullying they’re encountering in school,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “We’ve seen Donald Trump behave like a 12-year-old, and now we’re seeing 12-year-olds behave like Donald Trump.”

The online survey, conducted by the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project from March 23 to April 2, is not scientific. But it provides a rich source of information about the impact of this year’s election on the country’s classrooms. The data, including 5,000 comments from educators, shows a disturbing nationwide problem, one that is particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students – mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims – have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.
  • More than third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.

While the survey did not identify candidates, more than 1,000 comments mentioned Donald Trump by name. In contrast, a total of fewer than 200 contained the names Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. More than 500 comments contained the words “fear,” “scared,” “afraid,” “anxious,” or “terrified” to describe the campaign’s impact on minority students.

“My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” wrote a teacher from a middle school with a large population of African-American Muslims. “They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.”

In state after state, teachers reported similar fears.

A K-3 teacher in Oregon said her black students are “concerned for their safety because of what they see on TV at Trump rallies.” In Tennessee, a kindergarten teacher said a Latino child – told by classmates that he will be deported and blocked from returning home by a wall – asks every day, “Is the wall here yet?”

A number of teachers reported that students are using the word “Trump” as a taunt or chant as they gang up on others. Muslim children are being called “terrorist,” or “ISIS,” or “bomber.” One teacher wrote that a fifth-grader told a Muslim student “that he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president!”

Educators, meanwhile, are perplexed and conflicted about what to do. They report being stymied by the need to remain nonpartisan but disturbed by the anxiety in their classrooms and the lessons that children may be absorbing from this campaign.

“Schools are finding that their anti-bullying work is being tested and, in many places, falling apart,” said Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello, author of the report. “Most teachers seem to feel they need to make a choice between teaching about the election or protecting their kids. In elementary school, half have decided to avoid it. In middle and high schools, we’re seeing more who have decided, for the first time, not to be neutral.”

The long-term impact on children’s wellbeing, their behavior or their civic education is impossible to gauge. Some teachers report that their students are highly engaged and interested in the political process this year. Others worry that the election is making them “less trusting of government” or “hostile to opposing points of view,” or that children are “losing respect for the political process.”

The SPLC urged educators to not abandon their teaching about the election, to use instances of incivility as teaching moments, and to support children who are hurt, confused or frightened by what they’re hearing from the candidates.

Open House/Open Schools

Hindu Temple of Bloomington Normal is hosting a March 19 community event for all Bloomington-Normal residents, to help promote Not in our Town: Bloomington/Normal faith and outreach efforts.  Attendees will have the opportunity to see the temple sanctum, learn about Sanatana Dharma – Hinduism - "and get a better sense about Hindus," temple President Chetan Desai said. The event will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at 1815 Tullamore Avenue, Bloomington. As seating is limited, visitors are asked to RSVP at http://goo.gl/forms/qEZtKioea1.

Meanwhile, McLean County Diversity Project Veteran Scholar Aishwarya Shekara -- daughter of Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal Steering Committee member and Hindu community leader/McLean County India Association President Archana Shekara -- shared her experiences working to create a Not In Our School organization at Normal Community High School, in the latest Diversity Project newsletter:

"In case you don’t know me, my name is Aishwarya Shekara, I am sixteen years young, and I am a junior at Normal Community High School. I am sixteen years young. Yes, if you read that correctly, I am not old. I have not experienced life at its fullest, I have not endured heartbreak, struggle, or poverty. But, I have felt hope. Hope so great for our small town, our diverse nation, and our ever changing world.

 In October, tennis season was coming to end, and I was looking forward to binge watching Netflix and catching up with friends. I still hadn’t chosen a project for Diversity and the decision was looming over me. This was the first time since 7th grade I had no project, no ideas, nothing that would get me on the trip! My guess is (Diversity Project Director) Jeff Schwartz used his Ozark/Salem/Ceil witch magic (do we even know what that means?) to decipher my need of a project. He approached me and asked if I had heard of Not In Our School (NIOS). I said yes, because my mom had mentioned it. So, Jeff told me to contact (NIOTBN Education Chairman Camille Taylor), and we all decided to meet at Barnes and Noble. My comrade and fellow Diversity Project Scholar, Kavya, was there as well, and we discussed and brainstormed ways to start a NIOS club in Normal Community. I left the meeting feeling inspired, and hopeful that I could make a change in my high school.

I want to thank Jeff and Camille for sitting down with Kavya and I that day. Without your belief in us, NIOS wouldn’t exist in NCHS. I never would have met so many amazing people from Not in Our Town, and the community. I want to thank you guys so much for all your support and blessings. No thank you will ever be enough;  NIOS has given me hope for students that we can change the world by solving everyday issues at school.

 Starting the club was easier said than done. Kavya and I faced several dilemmas, but we never gave up. We want NCHS to support intolerance, anti- bullying, and end racism. Our goal is to make the school a more inclusive environment that supports the entire student body.

I think we're getting there.

With the help of our esteemed advisor Mr. Kelly Keogh, Normal Community’s Not in Our School had its first official meeting in the first week of February. The very next week we organized an event called Operation Beautiful for Valentine's Day. Operation Beautiful reminds students that they are important through compliments and nice words. Our goal was to write a compliment on a sticky note for every locker. There are approximately 2000 lockers at Normal Community! Through the help of NIOS students from Normal West, Future Business Leaders of America members, and Culture Club, we finished writing and putting up the sticky notes in an hour! I thought it was a miracle we finished at 3:45! I expected to stay until 5:00, but with the help and support from so many amazing people, we made every student smile the next day.

As I strolled down the hallways after all the sticky notes were put up, I took a moment to document this image in my memory. I have volunteered in the past, but this was different. This was something beautiful. I was part of something beautiful, something that would make a stranger smile, something that would remind students that they are loved and cared for at our school. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much in my life or felt true happiness until that day.

So when asked about my life and experiences, I say this: I have faced no real hardships, heartbreak, or pain. But I am lucky to enough to have felt hope and happiness. Serving Not In Our School has given happiness I will never forget, and hope that our future will be a better place if we choose to make it one."

Paper Tigers Focuses on Traumatized Youth

Illinois State University will host a free public screening of Paper Tigers, a documentary examination of traumatized youth, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, in Bone Student Center Braden Auditorium.

An expert panel discussion will follow the screening. Register online at www.cvent.com/d/qfqw0z. Not In Our Town is partnering in the presentation.

Paper Tigers is an intimate look into the lives of selected students at Lincoln High School, an alternative school that specializes in educating traumatized youth. Set amid the rural community of Walla Walla, Washington, the film closely examines the inspiring promise of trauma informed communities—a program that is showing great promise in healing youth struggling with the dark legacy of adverse childhood experiences. These potentially traumatic childhood events can have lasting effects on later-life health and well-being.

This film is co-hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Illinois Education Association Affiliates Region 14 and Region 62 (IEA), Bloomington Education Association (BEA), Bloomington Education Support Personnel (BESP), Unit Five Education Association (UFEA), Unit Five Support Professionals Association (UFSPA), ISU Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association (ISU NTTFA), ISU’s chapter of the Student Education Association (SEA), and the ISU College of Education.

Not In Our School Making The Elementary Grade

Normal's Unit 5 and Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal continue to plant the seed of inclusivity and security in area elementary schools.

Fox Creek Elementary School has joined Glenn Elementary in flying the Not In Our School banner pledging efforts to stop bullying and bigotry.

Fox Creek Principal Dennis Larson recently presided over a school assembly introducing students to the NIOS program, which has also taken hold in Twin Cities junior high and high schools. Larson also has helped facilitate an effort with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Illinois, Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, and Promise Council to recruit added adult mentors, particularly men, to help at-risk students who need assistance with their school work.

Unit 5 officials and NIOTBN's Education Subcommittee are looking to bring additional schools into the NIOS program.

Glenn Elementary Launches Not In Our School


Not In Our School kicked off at Normal's Glenn Elementary School Friday in an effort by the Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal program to reach children at an earlier stage.

Glenn Elementary held an assembly to kick off “Kindness Month,” during which students will be rewarded for acts of kindness, including defending against bullying. WJBC was on hand to interview participants in the program, which previously established a base in Twin Cities junior high and high schools.

"Just like anything else, the earlier you start the better!" NIOT:B/N Education Chairman Camille Taylor related. "The mission of Not In Our School is to stop hate, address bullying, and create a safe, inclusive community. Children at the elementary level, from kindergarten through fifth grade, can learn specific skills to be an upstander when they witness bullying.

"They can also learn the importance of speaking up and speaking out to make their learning environment safer. Students will become accustomed to this and expect/demand that their school environment be like this as they progress through middle and high school."

Jan Meadows, a retired teacher who according to Taylor helped NIOS "make the Glenn connection," stressed kindergarten is "the beginning of outside the family socialization."

"We start at the beginning," Meadows said. "That is where we start. When we expect high schoolers to succeed in algebra, we forget that once they didn't know any numbers. The same applies for social skills. When we teach the littlest child the language and the actions of inclusion, they accept it, they practice it, we reward and recognize their efforts and they will use it. "

"We often don't recognize that our brains are wired to search out danger in all settings, anything that looks or sounds different sets off internal alarms. But just like other biological responses the brain learns to accept and ignore these alarm triggers through practice and knowledge. These are skills we can and must teach our children."

Taylor reported Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 superintendents have given "100 percent support" to NIOS developing elementary-level programs on a school-by-school basis.

NIOT Workshop Educates Students on Diversity, Respect

Julia Evelsizer

The Pantagraph

Nia Gilbert was the only University High School student who took a day off school Thursday for a unique field trip.

She didn’t visit a museum or tour a courthouse. She spent the day with more than 20 other local students, sharing experiences and opinions about bullying and diversity at the first local Not In Our School (NIOS) workshop.

“We have so many clubs and groups at U High, which is great, but I’d like to see them taking more action instead of just discussing the problems,” said Gilbert, a U High senior. “I think this sort of workshop will help bring those changes we need to schools.”

Gilbert was joined by students and faculty sponsors from Normal Community, Normal West and Bloomington high schools and Bloomington Junior High School at the YWCA in Bloomington.

“The goal of this workshop is to cultivate student leaders, create collaborations among students and schools and provide a forum for youth voices,” said Camille Taylor, co-chair of the Bloomington Normal Not In Our Town (NIOT) education committee.

Twin Cities students participated in a Not In Our School workshop this week focusing on stopping bullying and promoting diversity. They were joined by area teachers and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leaders Camille Taylor, front row right, and Mary Aplington, back row fifth from right.

Twin Cities students participated in a Not In Our School workshop this week focusing on stopping bullying and promoting diversity. They were joined by area teachers and Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leaders Camille Taylor, front row right, and Mary Aplington, back row fifth from right.

With help from the Regional Office of Education and NIOT, the day-long workshop included speakers, activities and discussion.

“Most schools have Key Club and Student Council, but those groups' focus isn’t to create an inclusive climate for students,” said Taylor. “When someone commits suicide or brings a gun to school, we say, ‘How did we not see this coming?’ It’s because we need groups of students and faculty to discuss and address these issues.”

Jay Shannon, Project Oz liaison coordinator with BHS, shared a project called “I See You” created by the HYPE Leadership Group at BHS.

He passed around a poster board with photos of HYPE students sharing their biggest insecurities.

“We should not see our insecurities and differences as weaknesses, but strengths,” said Shannon. “If we share our insecurities we can support each other.”

Amari Funderburg attended the workshop with the plan to strengthen support groups at her high school for future students.

“I want to learn things here and take it back to school and plant seeds,” said Funderburg, NCHS senior. “After I graduate, I want this sort of group to continue to flourish.”

Along with several peers, Funderburg was joined at the workshop by Bryan Thomas, NCHS track and field coach and NIOS sponsor.

“If you see someone being bullied, don’t be a bystander, be an upstander,” Thomas said to students. “Talk to your teachers. It makes us aware of what’s going on with you guys and helps us understand how to help.”

Between teacher presentations, students were eager to participate and share experiences and solutions. The sponsors sat back, listened and took notes.

“I’ve found that students are more open to diversity than adults,” said John Bierbaum, NIOS club sponsor for West. “In the midst of such polarizing politics, kids need the space and opportunity in school to focus on these issues instead of just rhetoric.”

NIOS Workshop To Focus on Safer Schools

In partnership with Regional Office of Education #17, Bloomington Normal Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal  (NIOTBN) will hold a Not In Our School (NIOS) workshop for local students on 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at the McLean County YWCA, 1201 North Hershey Road. Bloomington.

The mission of Not In Our Town is to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities. NIOS is a natural outgrowth of this mission, working to create safe schools across our country.  NIOTBN is affiliated with this national organization, and its supporters pledge to help erase bigotry and bullying from their workplace, from their businesses, from their classrooms and campuses.  NIOTBN hopes to foster a more inclusive community for all.

Through the efforts of NIOTBN’s Education Committee, Not In Our School groups are being established at many local schools. Bloomington High School, Bloomington Junior High School, Normal West High School, and Normal Community High School are among those that have adopted NIOSinitiatives. NIOS student members embody the mission, vision, and values of Not In Our Town.  

The first local NIOS workshop will:

● Cultivate student leaders representing five local schools;

● Create collaborative alliances among students, schools, and administrations;

● Provide a forum for youth voices and concerns;

● Develop deeper understandings of barriers to safe and inclusive schools;

● Facilitate the identification of actions that will result in safer schools;

● Empower students to be leaders and change agents;

● Identify and provide access to tools and resources that support schools’ efforts; and

● Create a structure for sustainability of collaboration among schools.

The Regional Office of Education #17 is partnering with NIOS and assisting with this workshop. YWCA leadership,  ROE #17 staff,  local police chiefs, and superintendents, principals, and staff of participating schools are among those who will participate in this collaborative workshop.

District 87 Hotline Showing Positive Results

Andy Dahn


Parents of District 87 students who are concerned that their child is being bullied now have a way to report that concern anonymously.

The district’s bullying hotline allows parents to submit their concerns to school and district officials through text and voice messages. While the messages are anonymous, school officials will still be able to respond to ensure parents that the issue will be taken care of. Superintendent Barry Reilly said while the hotline has only been in place for one week, it has already helped stop some instances of bullying.

“We’ve already seen the benefit of it,” Reilly said. “I think as people begin to get comfortable with the fact that it is truly anonymous, I think we’ll get more information, and more information is better. I’m sure I’ve got some principals who are concerned with the amount of messages that they could get, but I really don’t see that being a big issue.”

Reilly said the hotline takes putting an end to bullying to a whole new level.

“This is another method that helps provide another safety net, as I see it,” said Reilly. “It allows us to investigate and mediate if necessary, but we are certainly able to follow through and make sure that the needs of our kids are being met.”

Each school in the district has a different hotline number, which can be found on the school’s website.

National Bullying Prevention Month: Hugs and Communication

As the students of Unit 5 and District 87 continue to acclimate to new experiences and relationships, they also face the challenge of coping with bullying or the temptation to bully. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and an ideal time for parents to talk with teachers, communicate with their kids, and, hopefully, help eliminate bullying.

The Pantagraph's Derek Beigh recently examined one local effort to inoculate students against the damage of bullying.

For Antoinese Watson of Normal, reaching out to bullied teens isn't nice, it's necessary.

"My cousin is (a local suicide victim's) sister," she said. "No child should feel they're all alone, and something like that is necessary."

Watson, a senior at Normal Community West High School, joined about two dozen other local residents spreading that message during Wednesday's (Oct. 1) Operation Hug a Child event.

“I started it because of the young lady who committed suicide,” said the Rev. Rochelle Patterson, pastor of God's Decision Outreach Ministry in downtown Bloomington. "Any child from 2 to 92 needs a hug sometimes."

Patterson, members of the church and supporters organized events, including face painting, speakers and games Wednesday at Carl's Ice Cream in Normal.

"I was bullied in fifth grade," said 13-year-old Sharissa Jackson of Normal after getting her face painted. "It helps to make new friends or find an activity to do after school to get your mind off it."

Watson said "a ton of people get bullied," but she tells other students to "stay strong" and "find someone to talk to so you're not all alone."

Patterson said Jackson and 11-year-old Ashanti Hunter of Normal, both church members, were big parts of getting Operation Hug a Child rolling. The effort has visited local restaurants, grocery stores and downtown spaces offering hugs to passers-by, and the church maintains a board with photos of those hugs.

Hunter said she'd like to see more school-based organizations working to stop bullying. Watson is part of an anti-bullying group at Normal West that will hand out informational fliers at the school's homecoming parade next week.

"We're planning to go to the schools," Patterson said. "Too many kids don't realize people actually care about them."

Wednesday's main event was a hugging contest. Deborah Love of Normal and Tabu Triplett of Bloomington raced to see how many people in and around the restaurant they could hug.

After Triplett won, Patterson even offered hugs to people in the drive-thru lane at Carl's, including Bonnie Stephens of Pekin. Attendees also formed a massive heart to demonstrate their togetherness.

Patterson said she'll be out soon at more locations offering hugs to anyone who needs one. She refers to people who offers hugs as "Heroes Under God."

"Look out. There's a H.U.G. coming for you," she said with a laugh.

Normal Unit 5's anti-bullying/anti-bigotry resolution, passed last spring.

Normal Unit 5's anti-bullying/anti-bigotry resolution, passed last spring.

Cheryl Pt. 1: Education, Clarity Key to Reducing LGBT Bullying

Gender identity – it’s an incredibly awkward subject for teens and parents. But then again, Bloomington counselor Cheryl Walton Strong notes, it’s an incredibly awkward time all around.

Sexual self-doubts, peer and family pressures, and socially and self-imposed gender stereotypes help foster the “homophobic bully,” according to Strong, who has faced dual challenges as an African-American member of the LGBT community.

Creating a school environment with “more acceptance, more understanding, less hatred, and less homophobia” benefits not only LGBT students and those who may not yet have affirmed their gender identity but also heterosexual youths experiencing the same rollercoaster emotions of puberty and adolescence, Strong maintained.

“It is a time of change – a time of really finding yourself and discovering yourself,” she noted. “You get the messages that, well, you’re supposed to be attracted to the opposite sex. It’s kind of like you’re always out of step, you never quite fit in, you don’t know what’s going on, and you don’t know who to talk to about it.

”A lot of people who are homophobic are actually struggling with their own sexual identity. If there are outlets as far as being LGBT, if it were acceptable, it would likely cut down on some of the bullying and definitely the number of people who are being bullied.”

Most heterosexual students at least can discuss relationship issues with their parents or friends, the counselor stressed. Often, when teens struggle with same-sex attraction, “there’s no one to talk to” or identify with, and relating even to “the heterosexual position” is difficult, Strong said.

Further, students wrestling with gender identity may fear the consequences of discussing their feelings or issues with family, for fear of being “disowned” or even hated. She urged parents to thoroughly research LGBT issues and “to come to some kind of clarity” before reacting emotionally or impulsively.

The consequences of failed family communications or acceptance speak for themselves: LGBT individuals constitute 40 percent of homeless youth. As Strong attests, suppression of identity to appease family can lead to years of often unnecessary confusion, depression, and failed or impossible relationships.

“I struggled so hard – I did the whole marriage thing, I knew I wasn’t quite ‘right,’ I knew something wasn’t feeling right, wasn’t fitting,” she recounted. “I went through my adolescence and was completely confused. I had the boyfriends, but I never really connected with them. Then I had the big wedding and thought, this is great – this would change me.

“I kept it in the closet up until I was close to 30 years old, and then I couldn’t do it anymore. I went ahead and got divorced and came out of the closet, and I felt very free. But that whole time before was just a nightmare.

“I told my cousins I was gay, and they said, ‘Well, we always knew; we were just wondering when you were going to let us know that you knew.’ That was very enlightening and uplifting. And then I found myself writing a letter to my mother – she was pretty traditional, and I didn’t know how she was going to take it. But she sent me a little statue that said, ‘I love you just the way you are.’”

The Bookshelf: Rights, Rites, Race, and Roles

The Normal Public Library continues to replenish its storehouse of cross-cultural reading, offering insights into the peoples who make up the U.S., the forces that drive them, and the issues that challenge all of us trying to live under a single flag.

The latest new non-fiction offerings look at the history of culture and conflict, the role of technology in both exposing hate and bullying those online, the roots and rituals of a key holiday, and the rights of immigrants, women, and tenants. Included are:

Considering Hate -- Over the centuries, American society has been plagued by brutality fueled by disregard for the humanity of others: systemic violence against Native peoples, black people, and immigrants. More recent examples include the Steubenville rape case and the murders of Matthew Shepard, Jennifer Daugherty, Marcelo Lucero, and Trayvon Martin. Most Americans see such acts as driven by hate. But is this right? Longtime activists and political theorists Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski boldly assert that American society’s reliance on the framework of hate to explain these acts is wrongheaded, misleading, and ultimately harmful.

Who We Be remixes comic strips and contemporary art, campus protests and corporate marketing campaigns, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Trayvon Martin into a powerful, unusual, and timely cultural history of the idea of racial progress. In this follow-up to the award-winning classic Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Jeff Chang brings fresh energy, style, and sweep to the essential American story.

A War for the Soul of America illuminates the most contentious issues of the last half of the twentieth century. In lively, elegant prose, Andrew Hartman explains how and why the consensus that appeared to permeate the nation following World War II frayed and fractured so dramatically in the 1960s. With keen insight and analysis, he shows that the Culture Wars were not marginal distractions from the main issues of the day. Rather, they were profound struggles over the very foundation of what it meant to be an American.

Detained and Deported takes an intimate look at the people ensnared by the U.S. immigrant detention and deportation system, the largest in the world. Author Margaret Reagan examines how increasingly draconian detention and deportation policies have broadened police powers, while enriching a private prison industry whose profits are derived from human suffering, and documents the rise of resistance, profiling activists and young immigrant “Dreamers” who are fighting for the rights of the undocumented.

U.S. Immigration Made Easy meanwhile helps prospective immigrants navigate a complex legal system. Every Tenant's Legal Guide elaborates the rights and expectations of those trying to find housing in a potentially discriminatory environment.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed: For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us - people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they're being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job. Ronson reviews modern cyberbullying and use of the social media as a "social control."

Hannukah In America: In New Orleans, Hanukkah means decorating your door with a menorah made of hominy grits. Latkes in Texas are seasoned with cilantro and cayenne pepper. Children in Cincinnati sing Hanukkah songs and eat oranges and ice cream. While each tradition springs from its own unique set of cultural references, what ties them together is that they all celebrate a holiday that is different in America than it is any place else. For the past two hundred years, American Jews have been transforming the ancient holiday of Hanukkah from a simple occasion into something grand. Each year, as they retell its story and enact its customs, they bring their ever-changing perspectives and desires to its celebration.

On Your Case: Television legal analyst and attorney Lisa Green offers something new: a witty, direct and empowering legal guide for women, filled with accessible information they can employ to understand and respond to common legal issues throughout their lives, from dating, marriage, and kids to jobs, retirement, aging parents, and wills.

Financial Aid for Asian Americans and Financial Aid for Hispanic Americans outline a wide range of options for minority families looking to fund higher education.