How Leander Middle School is tackling lunchroom cliques

English teacher Amber Foulk at Leander Middle School meets weekly with a group of students for their No Place for Hate program (Kate Weidaw, KXAN).

LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) – Walking down the halls of Leander Middle School you are welcomed each step of the way with a colorful poster aimed at displaying the school’s diversity, culture and inclusive nature. As one of the oldest schools within the district and the former location of Leander’s high school many years ago, students like 7th grader Jasmine Johnson want to make everyone feel welcomed.

“I love standing up for people when someone is talking about someone behind their back,” Johnson says. “I love defending them.”

That’s all part of the school’s No Place for Hate program led by English teacher Amber Foulk. “The second you step on this campus, adult or child, you feel welcomed and that you are wanted and valued here.”

Her group of students meets weekly to discuss issues facing their campus. The big one – cliques – happen especially during lunch. Eighth grader Jordan Troyer is leading the efforts to encourage students to sit with someone new. She remembers how it felt to feel alone until 6th grade when a student in the No Place for Hate group approached her.

“She taught me the ins and outs of the school, she brought me this kind of smile when I was this gloomy person and I didn’t know what to do,” Troyer says.

Now Troyer is working to do the same for others, saying it’sOK to be yourself. “I want to be someone who allows everyone to be their own self, allows the different people to be their own, and allow all the unique people to be who they are without judgement.”

On Wednesday, Leander Middle School will join 60 other school districts from across the state at the University of Texas for the annual No Place for Hate Summit put on by the Anti-Defamation League. The goal is to have students challenge their biases, show respect for different people, and see the world is bigger outside their campus. In all, 600 7th and 8th graders are expected to attend.

Foulk hopes her students bring back new ideas that continue to encourage a more inclusive campus. She also encourages parents who might have a kid that feels left out – seek out the No Place for Hate group on campus.

“Our kids are always on the lookout for maybe who is being left out, who is maybe needing a friend, and so they are allies and we learn a lot about how to be an ally to other people.”

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