• Feb. 25, 2020

    Students reminded that “My response is my choice”

    Kate Fitzsimons “My response is my choice,” was the resounding theme throughout Upper St. Clair High School on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. In addition to an internationally known speaker on resilience, members of the school’s Black Student Union, Multicultural Club, No Place for Hate Committee and Student Council designed and led activities in honor of Black History Month.

    While ninth and 11th graders listened to the speaker in the auditorium, students in grades 10 and 12 were in 22 classrooms throughout the school where 44 student facilitators led activities. The groups switched after 50 minutes – giving all students access to both programs.

    “The No Place for Hate committee believes in implementing student-led activities that empower students to take an active role in combating hate and discrimination while also celebrating inclusion and diversity,” Dan Zelenski, assistant principal and the high school No Place for Hate coordinator, said. “Our student facilitators collaborated to plan and implement the activities, providing for a unique and impactful experience for all of our students.”

    Black History Month activities included The State of Louisiana Literacy Test, a Black history trivia quiz via Kahoot, sharing powerful quotes from African Americans, and a discussion that included reflections on the activities and a discussion on what individuals can do to create a more inclusive environment for all.

    “As a result of participating in the Black History Month activities, we hope our students will be able to more fully understand the obstacles and struggles faced by African Americans,” Mr. Zelenski said. “The Black Student Union, led by Rebekah Chikuni, suggested the idea of having our students take a 1965 Alabama literacy test. This allowed our students to experience one of the many ways African Americans were historically disenfranchised.”

    Australian Kate Fitzsimons, a speaker and coach who specializes in uplifting teens, took the stage to share her personal story of loss, challenge and resilience. Following the 2012 death of her older sister, Kate made it her mission to empower teens through life’s unexpected, uncertain and unwanted challenges.

    “Adversity, the unexpected, is part of life; but you get a choice in how you respond to it,” Kate said. “Resilience is being committed to getting back up every time you get knocked off your feet.”

    Kate shared that the days, months and years after her sister’s death she felt powerless and angry. She credits the following poem from Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, in transforming her outlook.

    Everything can be taken from man
    But one thing – the freedom to
    Choose one’s attitude
    In any given set of circumstances.

    “If Viktor Frankl can find hope, then any of us can,” she said. “I have a choice about how I respond to things.”

    She shared with students what she considers the three Rs of “Response-ability”:

    • Recognize: separate the facts from your thoughts
    • Reflect: Are these thoughts useful? Do they bring me closer to my goals or the kind of person I want to be?
    • Redirect: Find that “rabbit” by asking empowering questions.

    “There are times in all of our lives when we are called upon to be resilient,” Dr. Timothy Wagner, principal, said. “Kate Fitzsimon’s message, therefore, is important so that we realize that in times of difficulty, we have more strength than we believe, and that we are not alone.  Accessing inner strength in combination with accessing resources to help us are critical ways to manage difficult situations and times in our lives.”

    Upper St. Clair High School offers help and support to students who are struggling. 

    “Students can always turn to a school counselor, teacher, administrator or really any adult in the school building for support,” Dr. Wagner said. “If an adult in the building doesn't have the specific resources to help, he or she will work tirelessly, in collaboration with the family, to ensure that a student's needs are met in the best ways possible.”

    According to Kate, each challenge or unexpected event can either make you bitter or better. The difference is simply a choice in perspective.

    “You are never victim to your circumstance,” Kate said. “No matter what, I have power over my life. My response is my choice.”

    Friday’s programming is part of the high school’s efforts to support the social-emotional learning and overall wellness of students.

    “We are excited to provide students with tangible access to programming that reminds us that we are here in the service of all components of students' healthy learning and development,” Dr. Wagner said. “In addition to participating in coursework, athletics, arts and activities, we are excited to provide opportunities that complement the work they do each day.”

    Students will experience a music concert performed by the U.S. Air Force Band on March 27. Opposite the concert, students will be participating in the school’s third No Place for Hate program. Then, on May 27, retired NBA player and national motivational speaker Chris Herren present on the topic of healthy decision making. An all-school assembly will be held during the school day and will be followed by an evening presentation for families in the Boyce Middle School theater.

    “His message about healthy decision making is powerful and will wrap up the 2019-2020 school year with a reminder to students that the school community cares about their overall development,” Dr. Wagner said.

    Other No Place for Hate programs included a panel discussion in December 2019 with guest speakers Richard Butler, non-profit leader, group exercise specialist, and lifestyle and business coach; Rabbi Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at the Tree Of Life Synagogue; and Dorit Brauer, artist, author and the owner/ founder of The Brauer Institute for Holistic Medicine. In January, the No Place for Hate Committee encouraged students to make and share No Hate Resolutions, which are posted in the school’s cafeteria.

    The school’s No Place for Hate Committee is currently planning its fourth activity, Diversity Week, which is set for the week of March 24.

    Resources from Kate Fitzsimons