Prince William News
Tue., Jan. 29 - Battlefield High School social studies teacher Stephen Dittmer was honored on Jan. 19 by the Prince William County Human Rights Commission, which conferred the 2013 Human Rights Award on the educator for his work with students.
Battlefield High Teacher Honored by Human Rights Commission
© Gainesville TimesBattlefield High School social studies teacher Stephen Dittmer was honored on Jan. 19 by the Prince William County Human Rights Commission, which conferred the 2013 Human Rights Award on the educator for his work with students.
Dittmer is behind the World of Difference Institute Peer Training program, which trains about 40 young people each year to educate their peers in tolerance. The program and others like it is in part a reaction to a bullying epidemic that has disproportionately affected lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.
“I think it has helped [LGBT students] a lot,” said Dittmer. “Peer Diversity workshops focus on all types of differences, from race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic status, and disabilities. The list goes on and on. The ability for the students to have a discussion on LGBT topics or any of the others topics is such an empowering device.”
The 40 peer trainers take a two-day course with the Anti-Defamation League and then lecture in each freshman English class for two consecutive days during the spring semester. While Dittmer acknowledged that the size of Battlefield High School’s student body makes reaching each and every student impractical, he said he believed the program’s current approach was reaching the wider school community.
“I hope that my trainers and the other students who take part in the workshops learn a greater lesson that they will take with them and spread throughout their lives: we are all part of the same family. I know the program has opened my eyes and I am sure it has opened the eyes and ears of those who have taken part in it.”
Dettmer’s students appear to have taken the message to heart. One former pupil, Kyian Robertson, entered a video in a national anti-bullying contest last fall and was among 15 finalists from across the U.S. Another former student, David Aponte, is now the head of the Northern Virginia Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education network and returns to Battlefield each year to help mentor other young people.
With so many examples of dedication and community service around him, in 2009 Dettmer established a $1,000 scholarship for graduates who had participated in the peer training program.
“I wanted to acknowledge the peer trainers and all their hard work,” Dettmer said. “Each year we have an awards and scholarship ceremony at Battlefield and I thought, ‘What better way to show appreciation for a job well done than to have a scholarship for a graduating trainer?’ We had earned a lot of money in fundraisers that year and I felt that this would be the best way to put it to use.”
Due to recent budget cuts, however, the scholarship is in danger, and Dettmer is appealing to the community’s generosity to save a fund whose benefits go to young people committed to making a difference.
“I really have a great group of kids,” Dettmer said. “I have time to observe some of the workshops the students are giving. They truly care about the program and what it’s all about: to do our best to help end discrimination, spreading rumors, name-calling, and bullying. They’re breaking stereotypes and focusing on our commonalities. The students are the heart of the program and I could never have gained this recognition without their tireless efforts and dedication, year after year.”