A small coalition of students is making a massive impact at Mercer Island High School (MIHS) and beyond through its No Place for Hate (NP4H) group.
Adviser Lisa Deen, who serves as the MIHS associate principal, said that the students are benefiting the high school community and reaching into the elementary and middle school realms with their critical efforts. The group is laser-focused on amplifying a message of inclusivity in the schools and entire Island community “where all students feel seen, valued, heard and understood,” notes the group’s razor-sharp mission statement on the MIHS website.
“Everyone has a role to play in combating bias and bullying as a means to stop the escalation of hate. MIHS students join No Place for Hate to uphold these values,” Deen said.
Mercer Island School District Superintendent Fred Rundle praised NP4H’s vital actions in a letter to the community in December: “They are working to bring speakers and organize events that promote listening, discourse, and learning. Adults, we need to not only allow students to broadcast their voices but lean into the message as well.”
While co-president Maya Talby is studying in Israel during the second semester, Kyle Gerstel has assumed sole presidential duties and is leading the way with his lunch group’s in-depth Israel-Hamas presentation/discussion delving into global and local matters, Islander Middle School partnership and a feedback tool for students to touch upon how sensitive topics are taught at school, Gerstel said.
Former three-year club president Rachel Senn connected with Gerstel and Talby through Youth Theatre Northwest’s Chaos Theory improv troupe. Gerstel commended Senn for her work as president before he and Talby took the NP4H reins.
Gerstel added that he aimed to spark students’ attention through the group’s projects: “At the beginning of the year, we spent quite a bit of time discussing how we can confront, cultivate dialogue about, and (at least strive to) end hate in our community in a way that creates tangible change.”
As the Israel-Hamas conflict unfolded in October, and following the local Herzl-Ner Tamid synagogue desecration in November, Gerstel said he and fellow NP4H member Sam Paddor continuously conversed with MIHS administrators and community stakeholders about educating the student body about the conflict and the resulting antisemitism on the Island.
Gerstel explained what it takes to be a potent leader in the NP4H orbit during trying times: “You need to constantly circle back to the why of your work and consider how you can achieve it most effectively, regardless of whether that means continuing the work you’ve been doing, turning the structure of your group on its head, or a combination of both.”