This past school year was flooded with the deaths of too many young people who believed there was no answer to the bullying they faced every day.
Vicki Abadesco and her team at Soul Shoppe are on a mission to change that. Soul Shoppe's vision is to create a bully-free world, and that means standing for safe, happy and loving elementary schools for all students.
"Young people are literally dying to feel seen and respected for who they are. What's it going to take for us to create a world where people can just be free to be themselves? For schools, the answer is a long-term commitment and plan by the entire school community for safety and inclusion," said Soul Shoppe Director Vicki Abadesco.
To start schools off in that direction, here are three hot tips for all administrators, teachers and parents to make your school and the world a safer, happier and more loving place:
Connect: "Put away the gadgets and find activities that build face-to-face social connection," said Abadesco. Whether at school, at home or somewhere else, students are always looking for authentic connection and a place they can feel safe. How does your home or school rate? Make your home or school that safe place by providing activities that build "togetherness." At school this might be participating in community service projects or daily "check-ins." At home this could be volunteering for a cause you all believe in or spending the evening sharing a meal and sharing what you appreciate about one another. "It may sound corny or too touchy feely but we encourage you to give it a try. It could save a life," she said.
Share Feelings: Young people are constantly confronted with situations that can cause them fear, worry, shame, sadness, anger and confusion. "Most young people don't know how to talk about these experiences and to be honest, most adults don't either," she said. "If you want to help your student, then talk about feelings." Share experiences you've had when you were feeling afraid, angry or confused. If a young person hears a personal challenge you experienced and how you got through it, he or she will be more likely to come to you when faced with a challenge.
Teamwork: Abadesco believes this is the key to creating safety. "As adults, it is our job to create safe and nurturing environments for our youth," she said. One of the ways to do that is by teachers and parents working together to support student needs. Make sure you have appropriate contact information and communicate the best ways to stay connected. Teachers, consider sending a weekly email with updates on how your classes are doing. Parents, find time to have regular check-ins with your child's teacher. This is an important relationship, so honor the relationship and take the time to get to know one another.
The key to creating a bully-free school is getting everyone on the same page about how to care for students, and that begins with a strong, caring community.
"The heart of our work is creating engaging experiences for all participants that change mindsets and impact lives," said Abadesco.
Heidi Harding, a teacher at Stevens Elementary in Spokane, WA, had this to say about bringing Soul Shoppe in to work with staff and students: "I would say that the time our school spent with Soul Shoppe was life changing. I could see a light go on in the faces of students and teachers. Wow!"
Flushing, MI, Principal Joe Reinfelder said this about the recent program: "Great! Best bullying assembly we have seen. We look forward to the follow-up."
Since 2001, Soul Shoppe has provided bullying prevention, character education and life skills programs to elementary schools throughout the country. The organization also offers staff training and parent programs.
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