The Anti-Defamation League visited Middlesex Middle School last Tuesday to speak to students about bullying, hate speech, and developing a discussion among grade levels.

The visit was coordinated as a result of two incidents of swastikas and a Star of David being found drawn at the school in the fall. The district began working with the ADL in early September, when they were contacted by Principal Shelley Somers. That work continued in October, according to Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Addley.

When an additional swastika was found at Darien High School, Addley organized a community meeting with town leaders and stakeholders.

That meeting was held in December.

On Tuesday, some of the students were completing activities in the library with Cyd Slotorff from the ADL. She said they have been sharing their stories on what it’s like to be in Middlesex and helping them understand the dynamics of what’s going on. She said that for students, it’s comforting to know other people in situations are struggling as well and are able to connect to one another through their own voices.

In the library, they began by sitting in a circle and going over concepts like religion, class, and race. Students shared their experiences and ideas on such topics, for example, wealth. They discussed how students comment on cars when being picked up or dropped off and how they will refuse to go to certain peoples houses but favor others.

The following activity was a fun exercise that included dancing. It began with having students individually crossing a line while dancing to music, then in pairs, then in groups, then as a whole. The exercise was meant to show the different in confidence and comfort from being alone to progressively having more people on your side.

One student shared their thoughts on the activities. “We’re learning about how people feel around our school and how people think about acting around school in ways we’ve never seen. We’re also learning how some people may appear to be and who they really are.”

Another student said, “We are learning about how to stop people who target one another and people’s emotions about different topics.”

At the end, Cyd conducted a discussion to find strategies to counteract bullying. Most of the answers from the students centered on being an ally to those who are being targeted.

Middlesex Middle School principal Shelley Somers said, “The next steps are working with students. In the spring there will be a parent meeting discussing these matters. The students here today stepped up and wanted to be a part of this and act as leaders for when they go back to their classrooms with their peers.”

MMS School Resource Officer Stuart Schwengerer was also present and spoke about the purpose of the days events, saying it’s a positive thing to relay and bring to light issues of bullying and speaking about issues of what’s going on in school. He also said he hopes these students act as ambassadors when they go back to their friends and classes to share the information they learned.

About the Anti-Defamation League

Founded in 1913 in response to an escalating climate of anti-Semitism and bigotry, the ADL’s mission is to protect the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all. Today, ADL continues to fight all forms of hate with the same vigor and passion. ADL is a global leader in exposing extremism and delivering anti-bias education, and is a leading organization in training law enforcement. ADL is the first call when acts of anti-Semitism occur. ADL’s ultimate goal is a world in which no group or individual suffers from bias, discrimination or hate. Read More at adl.org.

Additional reporting by Susan Shultz.