By Jennifer Solis
---- — WEST NEWBURY — Her ongoing efforts to combat stereotypes and embrace diversity have earned Pentucket Middle School Principal Debra Lay an Alumni Community Service Award from her alma mater.
The University of Phoenix, Boston campus, recently recognized Lay for her work in developing the school-wide anti-bullying program she is currently implementing at the middle school.
“University of Phoenix is dedicated to supporting the communities we call home, so it is an honor to recognize alumna Debra Lay with the Community Service Award for her commitment to educating local youth about anti-bias, stereotypes and anti-bullying,” Jodi Ashbrook, director of University of Phoenix’s Boston campus, said.
“Lay demonstrates the passion and drive needed to make a difference through her work with the Anti-Defamation League and Pentucket Regional Middle School.”
As part of her program, Lay, a 20-year veteran of education, worked with the Anti-Defamation League “to teach students to help one another make the right choices, tolerate diversity and engage in the power of one,” according to a press release issued by the university announcing the award.
Lay’s anti-bullying campaign taps 29 seventh- and eighth-graders, who were trained by the ADL at Veasey Park in Groveland for three days in October.
Since then, the students have been collaborating with their advisors weekly to coordinate a “launch into classrooms,” Lay said. Using what she describes as “a vibrant and interactive curricula,” the peer trainers will explore topics such as bias, tolerance, diversity, stereotypes and anti-bullying with their classmates.
“These are topics our student body is all too familiar with, yet these trainers have been trained to deliver engaging lessons that place their knowledge and proactive strategies before their own peers,” the principal said.
The peer trainers recently participated in a STAND UP to Bullying conference held at Tsongas Arena in Lowell and will be attending a faculty meeting this week to demonstrate a partial lesson for teachers to show the approach they plan to take within the classrooms.
The student team had hoped to engage the school in National Mix It Up Day — a nation-wide call for action that asks students across the country to move out of their predictable routines and comfort zones by choosing to sit with someone new in the cafeteria during lunch period. But their good intentions were thwarted when school was cancelled on the day of the event due to Hurricane Sandy. The group is hoping to hold its own rescheduled version of Mix It Up Day some time this month.
The goal is for students to begin recognizing the common threads they share with people who are not in their normal circle of friends, Lay said.
“I started the peer-training program to create an environment where diversity is welcome and bullying is not accepted,” Lay said. “I always tell my students what counts are the decisions made when adults aren’t looking — those are the moments that count for character.”
In 2010, Lay continued her education by earning a doctorate of education in educational leadership online from University of Phoenix.
Each year, the university’s Alumni Association “celebrates alumni who are making a difference and giving back to their communities. This acknowledgement recognizes graduates for their efforts to better the communities in which they live and work,” the press says.