Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Student Driven Schools

The following is a guest post by Disha Dass and Jessica Milne, two New Milford High School students.  They approached me with an idea and as a school we let them run with it.  Nothing like this had ever been organized at NMHS.  The end result of their unwavering commitment to make their peers aware of of an issue had a profound impact on the entire school community.  Students making a difference and having a say in the culture of our school are two of the many defining characteristics that make NMHS a special place.  Our job is to serve the students by listening and putting their ideas into action in order to improve all facets of education.  They should be in the driver's seat.

If you had walked down a hallway in New Milford High School on Friday, April 15th, you would have seen students greeting each other in silence, laughing silently at a silent joke, and a mass of red shirts, all reading: Day of Silence: A Million Voices. April 15, 2011 was the National Day of Silence, a movement protesting the bullying and harassment faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) teens.
In New Milford, two students took the initiative to make the Day of Silence happen at their high school. They had witnessed firsthand some of the negative attitudes towards LGBT kids in the school, and decided to do something about it. Fueled by the knowledge that their cause was a good one, these students (senior Jessica Milne and junior Disha Dass) gained the support of Mrs. Zacher, the Student Assistance Counselor and head of BUDDY (Bullying Undermines the Development of Diverse Youths), an anti-bullying group at the high school. Along with BUDDY, Disha and Jessica approached Mr. Sheninger about New Milford High School participating in the Day of Silence.

Throughout the entire process, the staff and administration of the high school was nothing but accepting and supportive. Mr. Pevny designed and printed t-shirts; Mrs. Zacher organized lists of participating students and printed out "speaking cards," which students could show others on the fifteenth to explain their silence. Other teachers asked what they could do to help out, even if they themselves could be silent. Mr. Sheninger was there every step of the way to ensure that the day was a success.

On April 15th, the National Day of Silence came to New Milford High School. Shirts, stickers, and speaking cards were handed out. Students walked the halls in silence, some writing down messages to fellow students or teachers in order to communicate. In Mrs. Swarctz's chorus class, students listened to the music that they were learning to sing for the spring concert. In Mr. Tusa's A.P. U.S. History class, students nodded along with their teacher's words as they took diligent notes. The silence was only broken at 2:55, the end of the school day, when Disha made the announcement thanking everyone for participating and officially breaking the silence.

The experience could not have gone better. A small high school experienced the silence faced by LGBT teens every day of their lives. Students learned that if they have the initiative and the drive to get something done in their school, all they have to do is ask. The faculty at the high school was supportive, the administrators caring, the students open-minded. We hope this will be the first of many Days of Silence at New Milford High School.

Please share your thoughts on this initiative and the concept of students driving changes to school culture as both Disha and Jessica will be reading the comments.


  1. Congratulations to you, Jessica and Disha! The loudest voice in our schools should come from our students, and you have demonstrated your voice through coordinating your day of 'silence'. You should be very proud of this outstanding project which truly shows that 'silence is deafening'.

    I hope to take this idea and bring it to my school in the future. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jessica and Disha,

    First both of you are braver for taking a stand against homophobic behaviour. Although not exposed to homophobia myself, I was targeted for being "weird" during my middle years, and a day like this would have made a HUGE difference in my self-esteem.

    We also had a day of silence at our school a couple of months ago (I am a small school in Vancouver, BC) and I think it was a useful experience for our students, but I wish we had done more work on reflecting on the experience the following day.

    The real test of the value of the day will come in the months following the day of silence. Can you make your school a better place for all kids?

    I hope so.

  3. I applaud the students for taking the initiative to address this very serious and beneficial cause. I applaud the school, the administrators, and the teachers for allowing them to organize this and help them in their endeavors. I hope more students find something they are passionate about and show that to their fellow students, and I hope more schools allow the students to be the loudest voice.