When a wave of immigrant families settled in Bucyrus, Ohio, the schools faced a clash of cultures. Some 96 percent of the city’s 12,000 residents identify as white. In one classroom, a teacher instructed the class that Mexican immigrants were to blame for drug trafficking in the United States. Following his comments, a Mexican American fifth-grader was targeted with racial slurs, harassed and then suspended for misconduct.
Bucyrus had a bullying problem, and city officials wanted to do more than punish students and react to incidents; rather, they wanted to stop the bullying before it began. They wanted a school environment in which standing up for someone in trouble would be a source of pride and standing aside would be a source of embarrassment. They wanted to teach courage in the face of persecution, even when — especially when — students saw their friends persecuting others.