November 13, 2003



YSHS sophomore Zach Grim standing in front of the grain feeder at his home on Clifton Road, where his family raises farm animals.


Zach Grim recognized for activism—

Student promotes peace at Yellow Springs High

The thought of not being able to do something doesn’t occur very often to Yellow Springs High School sophomore Zach Grim, especially when it comes to caring for animals and people.

When his grandfather fell ill, Zach ran his farm in Clifton for several years. He led the Student Council last year and was instrumental in starting a food drive and having Saturday schools used for community service. Now he is working to reduce bullying in the school and promote peaceful solutions to conflict between students.

Zach was recognized last month by the Dayton region’s National Conference for Community and Justice with the annual Youth Friendship Award for his leadership in fighting bias, bigotry and discrimination. He was honored for his activism in accomplishing the goals he set at the NCCJ Anytown Youth Leadership Institute last summer to improve human relations at Yellow Springs schools.

“We saw his growth and development during the residential camp and recognized the activism he showed at his school to improve race relations and to minimize and eliminate discrimination in any form,” said Patricia Meadows, the executive director of the Dayton NCCJ. “He really has followed through with his passion to building understanding and celebrating differences between people.”

Zach knows what it feels like to be treated unfairly from his first six years at Cedarville schools. As a child of divorced parents, and one of the smaller students attending a strict, sports-minded school in a religious community, he said, he was teased on the bus, pushed into lockers in the hallway, and was unsupported by school administrators and staff.

His mother, Tracee Knisley, recalled talking with the principal about the problems Zach was having. “The principal said, ‘Zach needs to learn to fit in or he’s not going to get along well,’ ” Knisley said. “I was flabbergasted to think that a child had to fit in. That’s the one big thing at our house, not to be normal because otherwise no one hears your voice.”

In the middle of his seventh-grade year, Zach transferred to the McKinney School. When he saw a student come to school with red hair he knew that he would get along fine, he said. His grades improved from C’s and D’s at Cedarville to A’s and B’s within the first year at McKinney. He joined United Society, then Student Council and then the new Youth Philanthropy Group.

His mother said that she watched him flourish and choose paths she never would have expected. But Zach said that most of what he does he learned from his mother and grandfather. A pediatric nurse who has three children and an adopted daughter, Knisley said she learned from her father that people always have the ability to change things for the better.

Teachers and staff at Yellow Springs saw Grim making positive changes at the high school and chose him as a local delegate to join 24 other students from nine area high schools at the NCCJ’s Anytown institute over the summer.

Students spent an intense week discussing and role-playing issues of discrimination and inequality and working on problem solving and conflict resolution. They talked about violence, and learned that all but three of the girls attending had experienced physical abuse. At breakfast one morning, part of the group got raisin bran and warm water and the others received waffles, and participants were challenged to reach a solution to the inequality. They were separated by family income one day, and Zach said he was shocked and saddened to see that he was considered upper class.

“It was a huge eye opener, these were kids I hung out with at the camp and we couldn’t understand why some were upper class and why others were lower class,” he said. “I hated to think that I was better than someone else, and I didn’t want people thinking I was better than them.”

Zach said that his Anytown experience raised his awareness about the disparities that exist in the world and the array of issues people use to discriminate against each other. He came home charged and empowered to implement plans he made at the institute to make YSHS a more peaceful and tolerant school.

As a member of the high school’s conflict resolution group, Planting Peace, Zach and nine others asked students in a survey what the biggest social problem at YSHS is. The surveyors were surprised to find that overwhelmingly bullying and teasing are seen as the most threatening issues, followed by stereotyping, sexism and then racism, Zach said.

The group set about planning events that would educate students about the problem and try to improve student relations through dialogue and peaceful solutions. They organized a peace week at the end of October with a theme for each day such as hug day, high-five day and mix it up day, as in mix with people in less familiar circles. The group also sold poinsettias to raise prize money for a Martin Luther King essay contest in January.

Pamela Stephens, the YSHS guidance secretary and Planting Peace advisor, praised the leadership Grim has shown at the high school. “He exemplifies NCCJ’s mission as a person who always brings peaceful solutions to conflicts,” she said. “Zach is very caring, he does a lot of work, and he has this inner drive to succeed and to be helpful.”

Zach has many responsibilities outside of school as well. He often rises at 5 or 6 a.m. to feed his own cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens, and then comes home after school to a household of children to cook dinner for and pets to feed and play with. But he has received support from his family when they sit down to dinner every night to talk about any and all issues. From home he has developed the will to do whatever he can to make the world around him better.

“I hate it when something’s not right, I have to be the one to fix it,” Zach said. “I’ll accomplish what I have my mind set on, just try to stop me.”

—Lauren Heaton