Elementary school students, teachers and community members formed a human peace sign. Middle schoolers signed pledges to be kind and respectful and played a game that was meant to show them what it would be like to have a physical disability. Members of the Gunn High School Chalk Art Club spent their lunch drawing positive messages on the blacktop around school. One read, "We're here for you" and another, "It's OK not to be OK."
A visit to any one of Palo Alto's 17 schools yesterday would have shown their own version of events to celebrate Unity Day. The National Bullying Prevention Center created what was originally a one-week nationwide bullying awareness campaign in 2006, which later grew into designating the month of October to bullying prevention. Schools encouraged everyone to wear orange, had special classroom lessons, art activities and read books like "One," a color and counting book that doubles as a lesson on bullying.
The formation of a human peace sign at Duveneck Elementary School was the school's culminating piece, after students had specific class lessons and made posters about kindness and what it means to be an upstander. Students, all donning orange shirts, pants or shorts the official color of Unity Day formed the outer ring of the peace sign with teachers and staff. Community members along with a few police officers, Superintendent Max McGee and Mayor Nancy Shepherd linked arms to create the inner lines.
Duveneck principal Chris Grieson, directing the excited young students into formation from a tall ladder(which was also appropriately orange), asked if they rememberd what Unity Day means.
"It means we all stand together ... we do the right thing," he said. "We want to make sure that we're helping others when they need help and recognize it when they need help."
Much of the driving philosophy for Unity Day is the concept of teaching students to be upstanders, not bystanders. This year's Unity Day slogan across the country was "When we stand together, no one stands alone."
Grieson, who's been with the district for 13 years and principal at Duveneck for four, said he does see more and more students standing up for each other. He attributed that to delivering a consistent message throughout the year through curriculum, assemblies and special activities as well as the fact that all of Duveneck's classrooms are inclusive, meaning general education students and students with special needs are in classrooms together, rather than separated.
"It's really important that we can foster that sense of empathy and awareness and acceptance of differences," he said.
Across town at Terman Middle School, students excitedly gathered at lunch to compete in the "Orange Challenge," during which teams of six had to pass an orange down a line as fast as possible without using their hands, which was supposed to mimic a disability. Many were wearing orange. Students who weren't participating spent their lunch sitting at the perimeter, watching the game.
On many of Terman's hallways hung Unity Day posters students had created with messages of inclusion, kindness and upstander behavior. "Welcome people who are new or lonely;" "Make sure everyone is included in sports and games;" "Be the upstander not the bystander;" "Eat lunch with somebody who is alone."
Terman also hosted last week Tom Thelen, a well-known anti-bullying speaker and author of "Victimproof: The Student's Guide to End Bullying." Principal Pier Angeli La Place said she's heard students "buzzing" about the talk and heard from parents that their children came home and talked about the assembly as being powerful.
"One of the things that (is important) at any age, but especially adolescents' age, is the idea of standing up for others and standing up for yourself," La Place said. "Creating the atmosphere where that's OK to be an upstander it's something we really work on."
Just up Arastradero Road at Gunn, there was decidedly less orange, but many students had pinned to their shirts orange buttons with the Unity Day tagline and five silhouetted figures holding hands.
Sophomore Jenny Kram, wearing orange pants and a button on her white T-shirt, said many of her classmates had chosen another way to recognize the event: Changing their Facebook profile pictures to the same image as the buttons.
"I think we're pretty inclusive," Kram said. "We try our best here. There are a lot of upstanders instead of bystanders."
Jessica Luo, a Gunn senior and president of the school's Chalk Art Club, said she felt asking people to wear orange seemed "a little too superficial."
Since the death of a Gunn graduate last week, her club started writing positive messages all around campus. Near the quad they wrote, "We're here for you," with the same line of peoples' silhouettes holding hands. In the courtyard of the new math and English building, a large wall was covered with "It's OK not to be OK" and again, images of people holding hands.
The chalk club had also been "commissioned" to create art for Diwali, Hindu festival of light, and were combining that with a Unity Day message on Thursday. Underneath the word Diwali, written in yellow chalk with the top of the "i's" turned into candles was the line: "Light the darkness."
"I think that although Gunn is known for its academic rigor, it's two extremes because one, it is stressful but two, it has a more supportive community than other schools," Luo said.
To sophomore Lena Ye, wearing orange might not have a deep impact, but it's a valuable show of support.
"Even though it doesn't directly make a difference in whether people get bullied or not, it's nice to have this show of support to say that we don't stand for bullying," she said.