At Olympia High School, students have a wealth of opportunities to serve and get involved in their community. Volunteer-based clubs, like National Honor Society, Rotary Interact, and Key Club all coordinate civic engagement projects. But for students looking for service opportunities that emphasize social justice, STAND (Students Together Advocating Nonviolence and Diversity) club is the place to be on Wednesday mornings.
Currently in its 17th year, STAND has been a club spearheaded by student engagement since its inception. Olympia High School principal Matt Grant explains that the idea for the organization came about during a 2001 event called “An Evening to End Hate” in which Olympia community members gathered to honor the victims of deadly hate crimes across the nation. “This was right when the events of September 11, 2001, were taking place, too,” recalls Mr. Grant, “and we were watching the news, and seeing everything that happened on screen. Students wanted to create a club where they felt they could address these kinds of issues and counteract hate in our world. They came up with the name STAND, and it all took off from there.”
The adult leadership of the club has changed hands over the years, and today STAND is overseen by Mr. Grant and Mr. Anthony Brock, but student ethos remains at its core. Every year, this passionate group of students selects social justice causes that are relevant to their high school community and organize all-school events to bring awareness and action to the issue.
“STAND always organizes the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly,” says Caroline Arnis, a junior STAND member. But she notes that the club’s activities vary based on current events. “Last year, we put on public forums discussing race and the Black Lives Matter movement, organized the school-wide Mental Health Awareness Month campaign and hosted a clothing drive.”
Senior STAND member Julisia Brock is enthusiastic about the new projects the club has undertaken in the 2016-2017 school year. “STAND has always been very active about organizing assemblies,” says Brock. “But something we’d never done before was the Disability Awareness Month assembly” which took place in October. In this assembly, general education students spoke and performed alongside Life Skills students. STAND also produced and showed a video showcasing what the Life Skills students say they enjoy about Olympia High School.
One of the most influential new social justice campaigns at the school this year has been the Bears Care program, managed by Olympia’s ASB (All Student Body) organization, STAND and other justice-aligned clubs at OHS. These clubs work together to bring awareness to specific causes every month. For example, October 2016 was Disability Awareness Month, and December was Community Outreach Month focused on providing for the community through a canned food drive and a feminine hygiene product drive. More projected themes for the school year include Black History Month, Middle Eastern Heritage Month, LGBT Pride Month, and Mental Health Awareness Month (which will take place in May to coincide with stressful AP exams).
“We choose the causes we want to highlight based on the three pillars of Bears Care: recognizing underrepresented groups, building a supportive community and fundraising,” says Caroline Arnis. “The program has had a great impact on the school. It also works to link ASB with STAND, since [junior] Emi Grant and I are members of both groups and we co-manage Bears Care together.” In this way, the campaign is creating a stronger sense of community even between related clubs at OHS.
Whatever STAND is doing on a given week – coordinating a stellar school assembly, planning community outreach projects or holding a thoughtful discussion about controversial current events – it is truly a place where everyone feels empowered and welcomed. And STAND strives to spread this same feeling of acceptance throughout the halls of OHS.
“The impact I see STAND having on the school is making it a safe and welcoming environment for everyone,” says Julisia Brock, who has been a member of the club since her freshman year. “I really enjoy the work we put in to make it happen,” she adds. “It’s giving back to the community, but in a really unique way. In the club we work on making tough subjects like race, sexuality, and gender easier to talk about. Most people want to avoid these conversations, but we push to have them because they play a huge role in our everyday lives.”
There’s no question that Olympia High School is better off for the efforts of this dedicated, compassionate group of young people – students that perpetually STAND for tolerance, inclusion and love.
STAND meets at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesdays at Olympia High School, in Room 216.