By Elliot Greenbaum
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a well known saying from childhood, but name-calling actually does hurt. This is the basis for Names Can Really Hurt Us, a full school day anti-bullying program developed many years ago by the Anti-Defamation League and brought to Greenwich and schools around the country.
November 28th marked the 18th annual “Names Day” at Greenwich High School in which all freshmen participated in the program which explores stereotyping, prejudices and scapegoating and teaches students how to respond to difficult situations.
Upperclassmen volunteered to help plan the day, and facilitated and participated in all the sessions. These were the students who comprised the Names Team and they have all been through the program as freshman and completed 7-10 hours of training.
Starting the day in the PAC auditorium, the entire freshman class was brought together to hear a panel discussion featuring Names Team students who shared their own experiences. Team members then acted out certain scenarios in short skits in order to highlight difficult situations and show proper ways to respond.
Next came the open mic session, which is considered by many as the most powerful part of the day. This is when 9th graders voluntarily came to the microphone and talk about their personal stories and meaningful experiences in one the four categories: Target, perpetrator, bystander, and ally. “It’s complete silence in the room while a kid is talking. It’s an emotional time and we can all relate in some way. Those kids showed true bravery,” said Ryan Gath, a freshmen.
Zilana Lee, a senior on the Names Team shared, “This is my third and last year being on the Names Team and each time I am so amazed how in the beginning of the open mic session, the freshmen are too scared to go up, but at the end there are two huge line of students who are so eager to share their story.”
Later in the day, there were breakout sessions of smaller groups in classrooms in which the freshmen do team-building exercises, examine stereotyping, and also have a chance to share their story if there wasn’t enough time during the open mic.
Nationwide statistics suggest that almost every single child will encounter some kind of harmful social behavior during their time in school, and can easily fit into one of four categories: Target, Perpetrator, Bystander or Ally. These four words are used often during Names Day as Marji Lipshez-Shapiro of the Connecticut ADL and founder of the program said, “Everyone has played at least one of these four roles. The goal is to give voice to the people who have been targets and teach empathy to people who have been the perpetrator, as well as teach bystanders to become allies. This program has changed many people’s lives, and some have even came up to me and told me that Names Day changed their life changed forever.”
Dr. Winters has often referred to Names Day as a “tradition” at Greenwich High School. Until graduation this is likely the last time that the entire grade will be assembled together, serving as a powerful reminder of how seriously the GHS administration takes this program. As Dr. Winters said, “Names Day is a little shocking for some, and is something that opens people’s eyes. It also gives students an opportunity to express themselves in a setting when they normally can’t such as in a classroom. The combination of making students feel comfortable as well as letting the students voice their feelings creates a successful program.”