YES! 2.0 Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to YES!

For 85 years, the National Conference for Community and Justice of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, Inc. (NCCJ) has been fighting bias, bigotry and racism in all its forms. It is our goal to advocate for those on the margins of society and to make this world a better place for ALL of us not just some of us. We believe that all races, religions, cultures and identities deserve respect so we advocate on behalf of those people who face painful discrimination every day. One of today’s most pervasive forms of bigotry that affects young people is bias-based bullying, in other words, bullying that is related to social identity, such as one’s race, ethnicity, perceived or actual sexual orientation, religion, abilities, and class.  Many of you live with bias-based bullying daily and already know it’s a huge problem, so I won’t go into lots of boring statistics but I will mention two important things:

  • Twenty-five percent of Connecticut students report that they were bullied in the last year and;
  • Last summer, the state of Connecticut passed legislation (Public Act 11-232) which requires teachers and all school employees to receive annual training on bullying, report bullying within one day to school officials and that schools investigate reports promptly.

This is a huge step toward ending bias-based bullying in our schools so that we can create positive school climates and NCCJ wants to partner with you to take the next step.

As I mentioned, NCCJ has been doing this work for a long time. You might already be familiar with our groundbreaking programming for youth. There’s Bridges, a two-day anti-bullying and prejudice reduction program for middle and high school students, and Anytown, a year long initiative that begins with aweek-long camp experiencein the summer for high school students focused on social justice (we also have a ton of fun!).  If you haven’t participated in either of these programs, please check out our website to read more about them.

A couple of years ago, it became clear to us that we needed a new approach to our fight against bias-based bullying. Our answer was YES! (Youth Establishing Strength), NCCJ’s newest youth initiative and national campaign. Our philosophy “every youth participant is a leader; every adult a listener” grounds our programming and nowhere is this value more evident than in the YES! conference this past fall. The purpose of the YES! conference was to gather high school students from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, so that we could hear directly from them what was needed to create a positive school climate. Hundreds of high school students participated and came up with some brilliant strategies to stop the epidemic of bias-based bullying that overshadows their lives.  It was amazing! Former bullies, victims of bullying and other students envisioned what they could do together to transform their schoolsand communities. Young people organized the conference, led the workshops and performed. Out of that conference was born the YES! curriculum that you are about to use.

The young people identified five main areas of empowerment that were needed to transform their schools into kind and inclusive communities:

  • Culture Shift – Youth expressed a desire to simply and immediately change the way students interact with each other, beginning with themselves. This curriculum offers fun and concrete activities to promote behaviors that create a positive school environment.
  • Talk it Out – Students are eager to have regular opportunities during the school day to talk honestly about diversity and difference. They want time to talk about identities and social justice. If you read further, you will learn some great suggestions on how and when to create the opportunities for these conversations.
  • Peer Power – The young people emphasized a need to offer each other support while in school. They want to be able to look out for each other. Acknowledging that mentors don’t always have to be adult, they want to mentor and share the wisdom they have with each other. They came up with some fantastic tools to connect younger high school students with the older ones.
  • Building Bridges – It’s important to create informal, safe spaces where people can get to know each other in a positive way. The YES! curriculum teaches you how to make an inclusive safe space for students who would not otherwise hang out, create opportunities to hear about different experiences and dispel stereotypes.
  • Adult Education – Youth want adults to believe in their intelligence and experience when it comes to bullying, rather than operate from a fear-based or punitive framework. This curriculum will teach adults how to intervene without escalating and how to centralize youth wisdom and leadership into their anti-bullying efforts.

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