Had a Hamilton Township high school student been asked two years ago about one of the other high schools in the district, the response most likely would have been a stereotype—“ghetto,” ”preppy,” “all white kids,” “too diverse,” or worse.

Ask the same question today, and the response may surprise. It’s thanks to the efforts of a group of Hamilton high schoolers eager to bridge the gap between the township’s three high schools. The club, named Hamilton NEWS, is made up of students from Nottingham, Steinert and Hamilton West, with its name aptly representing each school (NEWS stands for North, East, West Students). Its goal is to promote inclusiveness through community activities and use kindness as a tool to evoke changes in both their schools and society.

The idea was developed by students last year after attending Rider University’s Day of Dialogue. At Day of Dialogue, Mercer County schools gathered to discuss sensitive topics dealing with diversity in the schools. They explored concepts such as race, religion, gender identity, stereotypes and biases that exist around them.

“We talked about the ‘unspeakables,’ the prejudice things said against our schools or against us,” said Gabby Estrada, a senior at Nottingham High School and a member of NEWS. “It was comforting. A lot of people go through the same things you are everyday.”

The three Hamilton high schools each attended the Day of Dialogue as their separate entities, but it was ultimately the inclusive nature of the event which allowed students from each school to see they desired to work together as one.

At the event, the Hamilton students explored the notion regarding the ongoing battle of stereotypes and misnomers found in each of the three schools and pondered what they could do about it.

“We spoke about how [Nottingham] is labeled as ‘ghetto,’ and how hurtful that can be considering what an amazing school we are,” Estrada said. “I also had peers talk about the discrimination that they had gone through, including myself, [and] situations and names they had been called. We all comforted each other and realized not to say or do certain things.”

The students and administration who attended the Day of Dialogue decided to hold a meeting as a follow-up to the day’s happenings where they discussed how to integrate the topics of the event into their schools. Additional student leaders were added to the mix, and Hamilton NEWS group was born.

“We explained what we wanted to accomplish and spent time discussing various issues and stereotypes present in our schools and society,” Hamilton West vice principal Bryan Rogers said. “The students took the ball and ran with it.”

The ambitions of the students were evident in their first meeting as they came up with a name for the club, its motto, a Twitter handle and an Instagram account.

‘Our world is changing, times are changing, we need to build stronger bonds with one another and keep an open mind.’

“Our original group was brought together last year with the purpose of talking about how to bring some of the topics from Day of Dialogue back to our home schools. The goal of the group is to promote, organize and participate in positive activities that bring our students together. Our group is trying to influence a school culture that talks about kindness as a conscious choice in all situations,” said Dawn White, Vice Principal of Nottingham.

Since the club’s formation, which originally consisted of 40 students, it has grown to 120 members in only its second year. The group is led by students with advisement from one vice principal from each high school, the guidance department and the school student assistance counselors, Steinert High vice principal Lauren Brazil said.

While the group has its individual presence in each of the high schools, it ultimately is one large club consisting of a student body from each high school who come together to unite as one. The students even decided to attend this year’s Day of Dialogue as one, unified Hamilton group. Weather postponed the event, which had been scheduled for March. A make-up date has yet to be announced.

NEWS has even begun spreading its message to the township’s three middle schools, which has received a similarly favorable response.

“The vision of the group is to understand that we have our differences, but instead of judging them in a negative view, use those differences to bring us together,” Rogers said. “Our students have collaborated to promote pride, spirit, unity and inclusiveness among our Hamilton Township schools through the organization and execution of various district events.”

NEWS regularly holds meetings at each of the three high schools, and has spoken about the club and its goals at the local middle schools, presented to the Board of Education and Human Relations Committee, held a carnival night at Steinert, and participated in a football game where students from all three schools played together. This May, it plans on holding a community dinner. Students also participated in a “swap day” where they were able to go to a different high school for the day and experience new surroundings.

Estrada participated in swap day in which she was paired with a student from Steinert who mirrored her daily school routine. The students swapping schools quickly discovered the other schools were not much different from their own.

“It was nice to hear all of the good things they had to say after the day,” Estrada said. “They all noted how much we got along in school and how friendly everyone was. They said we were diverse, but nowhere near ghetto.”

This year, Estrada will be reversing roles, and mirror a student at another school.

Brandon Slaboda, a senior at Steinert and a founding member of the club, said he joined NEWS because he wants to give a voice to everyone and provide them with the opportunity to express how they feel.

“My favorite event we’ve done so far was going to present to the middle schools…because it is essential that we get this message to the younger crowds before they move into high school with preconceived notions that are not true,” Slaboda said.Rob

bie Angarone, a sophomore at Steinert, explains his involvement in the club and how it initially began with the intention of solely uniting the high schools, but is starting to trickle in to the middle schools with hopes to expand to elementary schools in the future.

“I’ve gone to the other high schools to talk about ideas, and I’ve gone to Reynolds to implant ideas of kindness in the middle schoolers. Personally, I’ve helped out in the unity football game and boardwalk night,” Angarone said.

The unity football game, organized by NEWS, appears to have been one of the club’s most popular events thus far. Steinert and West are known for their Thanksgiving Day football game, but all rivalry was put aside for the united flag football game in October, where the three high schools came together to play as one. The game took place at night, under the lights, something very rare for the township.

Cheerleaders, school mascots, and fans in the bleachers came together from each of the three high schools and cheered in unison for “one Hamilton.” District administrators, school administrators, coaches, and various school board members were also in attendance, Brazil said.

Each of the three vice principals advising the club have nothing but high hopes and a positive outlook for NEWS and its prosperous future.

White explained that the group is a pleasure to be a part of and their actions reflect her personal beliefs after her 27-year career in Hamilton.

“I strive to make school a better place for students and to have students realize that this is an opportunity to build upon for their own future,” White said. “Not all students like school but all students can be successful here and that success is not always measured in their grades.”

Rogers praises the ambitions of the students.

“The students have embraced the message and are very eager to participate in different activities,” he said. “They have formed relationships with students from other schools and have participated in meaningful conversation…They want to see a change and have taken responsibility to be that change.”

Hamilton NEWS has only just begun, but they already have started changing the township with their promotion of kindness, the elimination of stereotypes and inclusion for all people.

“Our world is changing, times are changing, we need to build stronger bonds with one another and keep an open mind,” Brazil said. “And what better catalysts for change than the kids?”

More on Hamilton NEWS can be found on the group’s social media accounts. Instagram. Twitter.