Students in first-hour classes at Durango High School this week have taken a few minutes to leave their handprints in paint on a wall on which is inscribed a pledge to respect the beliefs, customs and culture of others, work through biases, promote respect and reject discrimination.
The conspicuous resolution is the flip side of an anonymous Twitter account that two months ago spewed gossip, oblique and outright derogatory remarks and hate messages about people on campus. The Twitter account operated for about three weeks before it was removed in late February. A similar Twitter account was active in November.
The accounts offered a link to Google Docs that allowed visitors to tweet anonymously, which several hundred did, ridiculing physical appearance, sneering at sexual orientation and jeering at promiscuity.
The handprint project isn’t a direct reaction to the tweets, María Gonzáles, a Spanish teacher and adviser to the school’s Prejudice Elimination Action Team (PEAT), said Thursday. It’s been in the works for more than a year, but the logistics didn’t come together until now, she said.
Students have been signing the Resolution of Respect for a good number of years, Gonzáles said. It’s not a futile gesture, but it remained in the shadows. A handprint is akin to telling the community, “Hey, I’m in,” she said. A name of a student will be added to each handprint, but not necessarily next to the one they left.
Now, the handprint event could reach almost 100 percent of the student body, said DHS junior Sobei Hamlin, the president of PEAT.
“I’m in my sixth year because I started at Miller Middle School,” she said. “The No Place for Hate campaign stood out for me because it promotes acceptance of everyone. It was a refreshing idea.
“Students who don’t have a first-hour class are contacting me asking how they can participate,” Hamlin said. “Usually, we have about 80 percent participation in PEAT events.”
The handprints are being applied to a wall in Freshman Hall outside the counseling office. They could appear on other unadorned walls in the school in the future, Principal Leanne Garcia said.
The handprints is a project of the decade-old PEAT program, Gonzáles said. The team goal is to make students aware of their own biases, promote respect and create a caring environment in DHS.
Members of the Anti-Defamation League hold a two-day workshop annually for members of PEAT, an after-school club that meets once a week.
A way to recognize a student, teacher, staff member or coach who promotes a caring environment is ready to launch, Gonzáles said. It’s the once-a-month Simpático Award – a certificate and a T-shirt. Simpático in Spanish translates as nice, pleasant, well-received.
PEAT is an example of the ADL’s No Place for Hate campaign, which provides communities and schools a framework for building programs that advocate respect.
Gonzáles and Hamlin said the campus is free of serious insults, put-downs or bullying. Issues arise, but students have the tools to resolve personal issues, Gonzàles said. She alerts administrators to some incidents, Gonzáles said.
“Little things bubble up, but they’re usually personal,” Gonzáles said. “The ADL manual gives us ways to respond.”
Hamlin said she occasionally is alerted to a perceived problem.
“They’ll ask me what can be done,” Hamlin said. “But they seem to find ways to work it out.”