DOWNSTATE GOLD STAR EDUCATOR SPOTLIGHT

Suzanne Apicella, Hanover Park High School
2020-2021 Gold Star Educator Award Recipient

No Place for Hate was introduced to Suzanne 7 years ago during her 5th year as the E.R.A.S.E. Club advisor.  She was unaware that there was a possibility for receiving a “Gold Star” for the program, but after she researched more into this, she has applied for, and received Gold Star status for the school for the past 6 years straight.

Having been a survivor of bullying herself as a child and teen, Suzanne knew that this program would be a great opportunity to get the word out to the student body to combat bullying, racism, sexism, bias etc. at the school. Her classroom is known to the students as a safe classroom, and she strives to make the campus at Hanover Park a safe place for all students.  With her direction, the E.R.A.S.E. Club became the driving force for the ADL’s No Place for Hate Initiative, and they were able to create activities and start discussions about topics that needed to be addressed within the school.

Suzanne’s philosophy is that it is not good enough to just teach tolerance and awareness of everyone’s differences.  You must teach acceptance and understanding, and only then is when everyone can heal from hate in the world.  She knows that this can be accomplished with constructive and honest conversations about race, gender, sexuality, creed, etc.,  and follow up with activities amongst the student body that are meaningful to all.  School must be a place of no hate.

Lastly, Suzanne would like to thank her high school sweetheart and husband Don, and her children Madison and Donny, for their love and support all these years.  They have shown her what love truly is, and she wants all students to feel as loved as she is.


How has No Place for Hate impacted you and/or your school?

No Place for Hate has impacted our school in a very positive way. No school is perfect, but the incidences of bullying have gone down tremendously from 13 HIB cases 7 years ago, to 3 for the 2020-21 school year. Our motto at Hanover Park High School is “We Are Family”, and although we have our differences, in the end, we can come together as a community and speak up and stand up against bullying, bias, racism, sexism, homophobia etc. I think the most important thing is not to just tolerate peoples’ differences, but to learn about these differences and really understand and accept everyone for who they are.

The No Place For Hate initiative has impacted me in a major way as well. Before I get into why, I just want people to hear a personal story. I was in grade and middle school, back in the 1980s and 90s, and I was bullied. I felt that the administration and teachers were not equipped at that time to handle bullying. This caused me to develop major depression and anxiety, which I carried into the beginning of high school. I even contemplated suicide as a teenager. I feel if there was a plan to help combat the bullying, and hold people accountable for their words and actions, my mental health would have been much more stable. Now that I am a coordinator for this program, I vowed to make my classroom a safe one, so students would not have to endure what I did when I was in school. I have had students from many walks of life (some that I have never even taught) seek me out for help. I strive to make sure that students know that there is always someone there to listen to them, and help them seek out help the proper outlets through the guidance department. I know many teachers at our school have also made their classrooms a safe area for their students as well. We are trying to make a loving and accepting environment to all.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in making schools No Place for Hate? How have you overcome that challenge?

The biggest challenge at Hanover Park is how do we reach every student successfully, due to the sheer size of the high school. We have 801 students at the school, and coming up with activities that reach all of them, especially the discussion aspect is very challenging. I think the same could be said for schools with larger populations and/or regional districts.

The End Racism and Sexism Everywhere Club students have been wonderful in spreading the No Place for Hate initiative to the whole student body. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the teachers have been very helpful with assisting me with the message and program. Many of them are voluntarily running clubs such as the GSA/SAGA Club, GirlUp Club, Asian Culture Club and the Spanish Club, to just to name a few! These give the students the opportunity to learn about all walks of life, and work together to create activities that reach everyone at school.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering joining the No Place for Hate movement?

Well, my first piece of advice to other schools considering joining the No Place for Hate movement is, of course, go for it!!! I would also say it would be important to reach out to the student body to find students that are passionate about the topic of fighting bullying, racism, sexism, bias etc., and tap into their ideas and creativity. You may have students that you did not even know, who would want to be a part of this initiative. Reaching out to all of them shows that the administration, teachers and staff are vested in their well-being at school (as well as to their parents and guardians).

A direct example of this are my children, Madison and Donny. They asked me questions about the work I was doing at home for creating No Place For Hate activities, researching and collecting information from other classes and clubs, and seeing how they applied to the No Place For Hate program for my school. Before my work, they had not heard of it before.

They asked me how they could bring it to their school, because they thought it was a great idea to help others. After discussing this with my principal, Tom Callanan, we thought it would be a good idea to reach out to the principal of their school (Steve Wisniewski, Stonybrook Elementary School, in Rockaway, the town we live in and help them bring the No Place for Hate initiative to them. Members of my E.R.A.S.E. Club and myself, traveled to Stonybrook and discussed some of our activities, and the members presented the initiative to them and gave them examples of what we did for our activities. We created a banner that said “Be a Buddy Not a Bully” and all the students at Stonybrook put their hand prints on this banner as a pledge not to be a bully. Discussions with the teachers followed the activity. From there they created their own activities and were awarded the status of a No Place for Hate school as well, 2 years running. I think schools that have participated in this program should also reach out to other schools in their districts to create a sense of extended community with the schools.

UPSTATE JANE GOLUB EDUCATOR SPOTLIGHT

Juan Zucchero, Arlington High School 2020-2021 Jane Golub Educator Award Recipient

Juan Zucchero is a former history and psychology teacher, SUNY adjunct professor, and current school administrator at Arlington High School (AHS) in Dutchess County NY. Juan began his career in Manhattan working at NY’s premier K-12 school “NEST+m” (New Explorations into Science, Technology, and Math). Juan’s current work at Arlington High School includes that of Lead Equity Facilitator among several other duties and roles at AHS. Under Juan’s leadership, students in the AHS Equity Association planned and hosted 4 major events during the 2020-2021 school year, including a spring multi-district equity conference that was attended by over 500 participants and a number of local, regional, and national organizations. Juan is also a supporting facilitator for his building’s teacher and parent equity committees, and his district’s equity team. Juan is passionate about his continuing scholarship in the field of equity education, American history, and developmental psychology.


Past Gold Star Educator