Working with Watchung Regional High School is always inspiring. The connection between Not In Our School and Jamie Lott-Jones and her colleague Mary Sok began with the production of a film about their school’s efforts to address cyberbullying. The partnership did not stop there. Not In Our School has been hosted at the school, met with two superintendents, and has featured Watchung’s efforts many times on NIOT.org.
Watchung students were also featured at a Common Sense Media MTV Panel on Digital Citizenship in New York City. Their most recent effort to spread Not In Our School across the 13 schools in their community in 2013 and then across the state of New Jersey with the White Out to Stop Bullying in 2014. The White Out is a student-led ongoing NIOS initiative that has led to their students writing the first NIOS student-written action guide, a Kean University award to a student leader and a current nomination for the national PeaceFirst prize.
We are honored to host these committed leaders at the National Leadership Gathering!
—Becki Cohn-Vargas, Not In Our School Director
Tell us about your school community.
Watchung Hills Regional High school has just over 2,200 students who come from four sending districts—Warren, Watchung, Long Hill and Green Brook, which are towns in the counties of Somerset and Morris, New Jersey. We are a suburb of New York City. Most of the student population comes from upper-middle class families but not all. There are rural areas of these towns and two major highways bisect the districts, too.
What kind of work do you do in your community?
I am a high school history teacher. I am also the President of the Diversity Council at Kean University.
When did you become involved in anti-bullying work and why?
I cannot point to a specific incident. In 1998, the very first year I started to teach at WHRHS, I was selected as our school representative on the Diversity Council. I think I have always had an inclination for this type of work. But the council exposed me to programs like graduate courses in Holocaust and genocide studies that helped to encourage my dedication to this work. In 2001, I attended the Facing History & Ourselves New York City banquet as a guest of parents in the school system and immediately enrolled in their teaching seminars. These experiences shape the way I teach every day.
How did you get involved with Not In Our Town?
Haha! I was called by your staff and I thought I was being pranked! Quickly we put the pieces together and I realized that Facing History & Ourselves had recommended me to you!
What work are you most proud of?
I don't have one answer! I am most proud of watching my students tackle these initiatives and find the inner strength to talk to politicians, to speak at town council meetings, board of education meetings, and to auditoriums full of people with poise and confidence. I am proud of how empowered they feel and of seeing that they have learned that they can make a difference in the world.
What do you see as the challenges to anti-bullying work in your town?
I think the biggest obstacle is the word itself. High schoolers hear the word "bullying" and they think it's infantile and below them.
What inspires you?
What advice would you give to other school leaders who want to address bullying and intolerance in their town?
Go for it! And send the kids… it's hard to say no to students who are asking you to help them make their town or their school a safer, more empathetic place to be. I didn't really know exactly what I was doing when I started, but I had excited kids who wanted to do it and we figured we had nothing to lose and lots to gain!
Join Jamie and other anti-bullying leaders at the Not In Our Town National Leadership Gathering in Billings, MT from Friday, June 20 to Sunday, June 22. Learn more and register here.