The Berkshire County Superintendents’ Roundtable, in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), are partnering to implement the ADL’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Peer Training Program for Berkshire County school districts.

“At a time when schools are experiencing unprecedented conflict and bias incidents,” said ADL New England Regional Director Robert Trestan, “schools in Berkshire County are empowering their students and staff with the means to model civil discourse and facilitate positive social change.”

The Peer Training Program, which has operated in New England since 1999, provides middle and high school students with anti-bias education and training to lead developmentally-appropriate activities and discussions with their peers on explicit and implicit bias pertaining to race, religion, ethnicity, culture, and other aspects of human diversity. Participants also develop safe and practical prevention and response strategies to address prejudicial behaviors, including ways in which young people can become allies for peers who are targeted.

This year-long program, which also includes workshops for parents and teachers, is certified by the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. Currently operating in more than 100 middle and high schools across New England, it is being implemented in 12 middle and high schools in Berkshire County, positively impacting the lives of thousands of students. The following districts and schools are participating:

- Mount Greylock Regional School District (Mount Greylock Regional School)
- North Adams Public Schools (Drury High School)
- Central Berkshire Regional School District (Wahconah Regional High School & Nessacus Regional Middle School)
- Pittsfield Public Schools (Taconic & Pittsfield High Schools, Reid & Herberg Middle Schools)
- Lenox Public Schools (Lenox Memorial Middle & High School)
- Berkshire Hills Regional School District (Monument Mountain Regional High School & - Monument Valley Regional Middle School)
- Southern Berkshire Regional School District (Mount Everett Regional School)

“Our students need to have role models for civil discourse and inclusion free of subjective judgments and prejudice,” stated Barbara Malkas, superintendent of North Adams Public Schools. “The A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE curriculum supports students in becoming role models for our schools with the knowledge and skills to change the conversation and decrease incidents that inhibit the educational process.”

Reid Middle School’s Principal Linda Whitacre added, “The students have shown so much growth during their training sessions, and are eager to bring their skills into classrooms of their peers. Some of our immediate goals are to provide young people with the opportunity to learn about and address bias-related issues and their manifestations, as well as to foster positive peer influence to promote a more inclusive and respectful school community.”

Reid Middle School student and A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE program leader Naomi Tayi added, “I was a little nervous to participate in the training because I was unsure about the topics. After participating, I now feel better prepared to address issues of prejudice and discrimination. As a leader, it is now my job to educate other students and I am excited to be part of this program.”

Underwriting the program’s launch in Berkshire County schools was made possible through a grant from the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, with additional support provided by the ADL New England Regional Office and some local school districts.

For more information, contact William Ballen, executive secretary of the Berkshire County Superintendents’ Roundtable, at (413) 446-1196, or you can email williamballen270@hotmail.com.

(press release sent to WSBS Albert Stern of Jewish Berkshires for online and on-air use, photos taken from A World of Difference Facebook Page)