New ADL program brings opportunities for student empowerment


Priya Maraliga

Selvi Oyola and Suzanne Stimson are the leaders of the new ADL Program at ARHS. The overarching goal of the program is to deepen students’ understanding of the importance of respecting and valuing each others’ commonalities and differences.

Sophia Murray, Assistant News Editor

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is bringing a new, student-led program to Algonquin, facilitated by English Language Development teachers Selvi Oyola and Suzanne Stimson, to create safe spaces for important conversations on topics such as diversity, inclusion and discrimination. 

The ‘A World of Difference Institute: Peer Training Program’ will run through the district’s middle schools and high schools as a two-year program for peer leaders. Oyola and Stimson will serve as the advisers for students who complete the application and training process. According to Stimson, freshmen, sophomores and juniors will be recruited to apply, and anywhere from five to 30 students will be chosen to become peer leaders.  

Stimson explained that the first part of the program will be three days of peer leader training, which will be facilitated by the ADL. The training will consist of developing the chosen students’ leadership skills and communication in order to fulfill their role once training is complete.

“When we talk about communication and leadership skills, we are talking about using those skills to facilitate conversations where they’ll be addressing bias, prejudice and discrimination,” Stimson said.

Post-training, peer leaders will meet with the advisers once a week to plan a monthly school-wide program. According to Oyola, there could be projects displaying things that are unifying, facilitating conversations by visiting classrooms, etc. The students will create and run these programs, keeping in mind the goals of addressing important issues and giving underrepresented voices a chance to be heard. 

“They’re going to learn how to run ‘A World Of Difference’ programs across our school by increasing awareness of differences, in personal and group identities, by building upon their communication and leadership skills and by actively promoting respect for all at our school,” Oyola said. 

The director of English Language and Equity for the district, Rhoda Webb, said bringing this opportunity to the middle and high schools has been a long time in the making with collaboration in the last year between ARHS Principal Sean Bevan, Melican Principal Michelle Karb and Trottier Principal Gary Hreschuk.

“We were all searching for programs that would give students leadership as well as learning opportunities that would serve them for life,” Webb said. “We came to the conclusion that the best program to bring in for leadership roles and learning from peers was the ‘A World of Difference’ program.” 

Bevan feels as though this will be a milestone for addressing issues within the school. 

“Schools have relied on adult-led programs to address inclusivity and equity, and this program relies instead on the immense power of students impacting change in their school, with their peers,” Bevan said. “So, I think that the topic itself is very important, and the model that the program uses will be more effective than others I have seen.”

While both Selvi and Oyola are excited about bringing the program to our school specifically, they both believe that all high schools should adopt a similar program.

“I think it’s important for it to be a part of any high school, not just Algonquin,” Stimson said. “The more schools that can get involved in a program like this, the better position we will be in.” 

According to Bevan and Webb, other schools that have participated in the program have been very successful in receiving the desired results. 

“I understand from staff at schools that use this program that the student leaders come together as a cohesive group and work closely to develop engaging programs for other students,” Bevan said. “I am hopeful that they will be challenged but also that they will find the experience to be gratifying and rewarding.”

Oyola and Stimson are excited that the students will get to work with representatives from the ADL, as they specialize in programs like these and make sure students are empowered to become leaders and have important discussions.

“The facilitators of this program are very knowledgeable in this field and they will provide a vault of valuable information for all of us, but I am most excited about getting to work with students from different backgrounds that I may not normally get to work with,” Oyola said.

According to Oyola, they are dedicated to making this the best possible experience for the peer leaders and Algonquin students in general.

“Maybe it will take away some of the anxiety that students may carry within themselves and that they will be in a good place, they can build friendships, they can grow socially, emotionally and academically,” Oyola said. “I feel that if students feel accepted and important, they commit more towards their success in that safe space, so hopefully this will enable them to see themselves in a better future: that they can do bigger and better things for themselves, whatever their goals may be.”

Webb hopes the peer leaders can carry the strengths they gain through this program for the rest of their lives. 

“If we truly want our students to graduate and live our core values, this is a very important program for students to be active agents, because the skills that they are going to learn will be lifelong skills,” Webb said.

More information regarding the program was sent out on September 13 in an email to students, and applications are due on Oct. 1. Stimson and Oyola are optimistic many students will apply.

“We would like everyone to be excited about this program,” Oyola said.

Apply to join the ‘A World of Difference’ Program here.