In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, in Beachwood, Ohio, re-imagined how to deliver one of its most popular programs, Stop the Hate. This educational curriculum and scholarship contest encourages young people of all faiths and backgrounds to speak out in support of tolerance, inclusion, and diversity.
“The entire program changed dramatically because of the impact of COVID, with restrictions on schools and the way that the museum has typically interacted and worked with schools,” says Dahlia Fisher, the museum’s director of external relations and strategic marketing. The good news? Stop the Hate continues to encourage youth empowerment, offer teens a chance to speak (or sing!) out for good, and potentially earn money for college as they do it.
The Power of Music
Stop the Hate consists of two competitions. The first, the Youth Sing Out Songwriting Contest, is a classroom-based group competition that begins with a tour of the Museum’s Stop the Hate exhibit. No in-person tours? No problem. “We created a virtual tour of Stop the Hate where educators, students, and the general public can take the Stop the Hate tour at no cost online,” says Fisher. “It also provides activities and thought-provoking questions that mimic what a docent might take the kids through if they were in the Museum.”
Next, the students participate in an online workshop with a teaching artist from Roots of American Music, an organization that uses traditional American music to connect students to our country’s past. After the workshop, each class crafts an original anti-bias song. The compositions are then evaluated by a judging panel selected in partnership with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“The students learn about how bias in history relates to their own lives today, and how musicians have spoken out against it. Then they consider how they want to speak out through music,” Fisher says.
Teachers and schools are invited to learn more about the online workshops and songwriting criteria; the deadline to submit songs for the 2021 contest is Friday, March 19.
The Power of Words
The second component of Stop the Hate is its Youth Speak Out Essay Writing Contest. Geared towards students from 12 counties, it invites young people to craft personal essays about episodes of bias they have witnessed or experienced and explain what they have done or will do in response. Students can participate either on their own or through their school. A panel of 400 volunteers reads every submission and helps to select the finalists. Winners receive scholarships or cash prizes, and their schools are given financial awards as well.
The museum partners with Lake Erie Ink, an organization that provides academic support and opportunities for creative expression, to offer free online writing workshops for anyone who wants to participate in the essay contest.
Students in grades 6-12 in Northeast Ohio are invited to enter their submissions; essays for the 2021 contest are due March 19 for grades 6-10 and March 26 for grades 11 and 12.
Widening the Opportunity
The Museum is also committed to broadening schools’ accessibility to its financial awards, beyond the individual scholarships it has traditionally awarded.
“Any school that opts to participate in Stop the Hate programming, whether through Sing Out, Speak Out, or simply by using our curriculum to further anti-bias education in their school, is eligible to receive money from a pot we’ve set aside to support further education in the classroom,” Fisher explains.
It’s yet another way in which the Maltz Museum has adapted to meet the needs of the community—and spread the much-needed message of tolerance, inclusion, and social justice.