Masuk students spread kindness during their school’s first Respect Week

Masuk students in the Women's Advocacy Club hold up a bingo card and the schedule for Respect Week, which was held in April. From left is, Yara Shaik, Anisha Gera and Ruthika Giduthuri.

Prom nights are memorable evenings of dinner, dancing and socializing with friends, but some high school seniors’ behavior can lead to bad decisions like drinking and driving and having fun at others’ expense.

Four students on Masuk’s Women’s Advocacy Club organized their school’s first Respect Week with a series of positive events spreading kindness in the days leading up to this year’s prom.

“Respect Week is about raising awareness about keeping a safe community, especially around prom season,” said Madison Julian, a senior, who helped organize the event. “It’s about making the right decisions every single day.”

Among the organizers were juniors Yara Shaik and Anisha Gera and sophomore, Ruthika Giduthuri. Gera and Giduthuri are co-presidents of the Women’s Advocacy Club (WAC), which teamed up with the Wingman Club for the week of events.

A presentation on teen dating violence given at Masuk last February by Debra Greenwood, president and CEO of The Center for Family Justice, and Amanda Posila, director of education and community engagement for the center, sparked the idea for hosting a Respect Week at Masuk, according to Gera.

“I think CFJ’s hope is to spread Respect Week to other schools,” Giduthuri said.

“If it starts here, then it can spread to other schools to help CFJ get its message across,” Shaik added.

The Center for Family Justice provides assistance, support and services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, working with municipal officials and law enforcement, while serving residents in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.

“The goal of the event was to be introductory, to define simple words like ‘how are you feeling’ and ‘have a great day,'” Greenwood said of Respect Week, “seeing others isolated in the cafeteria or fellow students needing connections to other students and making them feel like part of the community of Masuk … and building trust, respect and friendship together with acceptance and support of the Masuk administrators, teachers and student leaders.”

Greenwood said CFJ has had events in various schools over the years, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Post COVID, this was our first introduction and we have had very positive and successful meetings with our other five towns administrative leadership on supporting initiatives as a resource moving forward,” she said.

“We currently have been in 12 of the Bridgeport schools, worked with Trumbull High School and others over the years, as well as both Fairfield high schools and Prep,” Greenwood said. “In addition, we have had great success with Bunnell High School sports teams and coaches, as well as Stratford High School during Domestic Violence Vigils.”

Scavenger hunts, poems, colors

Respect Week was held from April 17-21, the same week Students Against Drunk Driving had an assembly.

On Monday, April 17, Masuk had a Respect Scavenger Hunt for the chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card from The Center for Family Justice, which had donated two $100 gift cards.

“We are very grateful for their generosity,” Ian Lowell, Masuk’s assistant principal, said of CFJ’s support of its students.

Each student participating in the scavenger hunt got a bingo card with respectful tasks to fill out. Among the 20 squares were: be on time for class; help clean up after lunch; say hi to someone you don’t know; hold the door open for someone; ask someone about their day; compliment a classmate; help a friend; and make someone laugh.

Completed bingo cards were placed in a box inside the school library for a drawing and students could submit more than one card. There was one winner among upperclassmen (seniors and juniors) and another among freshmen and sophomores.

Valerie Vilca, a junior, and Pedro Soriano, a sophomore, won the scavenger hunt.

On Tuesday, April 18, freshmen and sophomores wore pink and juniors and seniors wore orange. Staff had their choice of pink or orange.

On Wednesday, April 19, students created a poem about respect with the chance to win a gift card to a local restaurant.

Poems were submitted and scavenger hunts were held on Thursday, April 20, for the chance to win a gift card to a local restaurant.

The week ended with a show of school pride that Friday, as students wore Masuk colors and winners were announced for the poetry contest and scavenger hunts. Gera said it was meant to highlight the spirit of the school motto: “Panthers pick each other up.”

Students also shared songs with respectful themes with Meghan Letko, the school’s library media specialist.

“I kept a list of songs,” Letko said. “One kid gave me a song he didn’t like, but thought I would like. It was good. We had a conversation about it.”

The students said it was a challenge to plan Respect Week within a two-week-window after spring break, with prom around the corner. Next year, they plan to host another CFJ speaker for a teen dating violence presentation and to have more time to organize and promote Respect Week.

This year, the scavenger hunts had the highest participation rate among students. “Next year, we’ll highlight the poems more,” Gera said.

“We want to get more people involved,” Giduthuri said, adding of the first Respect Week, “it went well, because we had a lot of participation, especially after spring break and the week before prom.”

Gera said CFJ helped them organize Masuk’s first Respect Week, sharing ideas and donating the gift cards.

“It would be hard to do without them,” Giduthuri said.

Greenwood said CFJ is focused on supporting efforts in area schools for healthy friendships and relationships through various initiatives with the center as a resource for grades k-12 in the six towns it serves.

“The Masuk High School students, especially Madison Julian, taking on this initiative, shows us that there is a commitment to introducing a culture of inclusion within the school environment, leadership on the students who organized ‘Respect Week’ to reach out to us and others in administration to seek support, and that our students are engaged in ‘making positive change’ within the student body at Masuk High School,” Greenwood said.

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