A group of students and teachers at White Brook Middle School in Easthampton, Massachusetts, use seminars and discussions to courage tolerance for others and reduce bullying. Included: Tips to reduce teasing and bullying
At the beginning of the school year, Adam, a seventh grader at White Brook Middle School in Easthampton, Massachusetts, drew the attention of bullies for two reasons. The 12-year-old was a new kid in town, and he had bleached his hair yellow.
Other students teased Adam about his appearance, so when he heard about a group of students and teachers who promoted tolerance for individual differences, he joined. Adam has not only attended some interesting workshops through the group but has also made friends and learned how to avoid bullies in the future. "If someone starts calling you names and stuff, you can walk away or just say 'Leave me alone,'" Adam said.
Among the goals of the group, Students and Teachers Raising Awareness Together (STRAT), is to keep students such as Adam from feeling isolated and to create a school climate that encourages consideration rather than intimidation. Since it formed last year, STRAT has sponsored two school-wide assemblies -- one on diversity and one on stereotyping and cliques. It also formed a diversity club and is preparing a third assembly, to be held later this month.
The idea for STRAT grew out of a series of meetings between seventh graders and school adjustment counselor Ann Marie Zanfagna last year. "We talked about friendship issues," Zanfagna told Education World. "Some kids felt like they were targeted. We talked about how unfriendly people could be."
The group decided to form a committee and brainstorm ways students and teachers could improve the school climate and help people learn to respect one another's differences. "We needed to look at how we operated as a community," Zanfagna said.
As part of that effort, Kathy Alexander, the director of outreach and education for the region's district attorney's office, taught a five-week professional development seminar for teachers about violence in the schools. The seminar included discussions about developing a healthful school climate.
A subcommittee of STRAT created a pamphlet that includes tips to help teachers prevent bullying, the theme of this month's assembly. Like the previous assemblies, this one will be set up as a panel discussion. Several adults and students will talk about how bullying has affected them. Among the scheduled panelists is a parent of a White Brook Middle School student, who still has painful memories of being teased when she was a seventh grader, Zanfagna said.
The assembly will be held twice, and the six students panelists, who are in fifth through eighth grades, will talk about their experiences of being teased or of witnessing teasing. No one wanted to sit on the panel representing the bullies' point of view, although they were solicited, Zanfagna added.
After the panel discussion, facilitators will work with students and adults in small group discussions.
Although White Brook does not necessarily have more instances of bullying than any other school, part of the reason for the assembly is to refute the idea that bullying is an acceptable part of school life. "We want to dispel the notion ... that this is what kids do and talk about the impact it has on everyone," said Zanfagna.
Another member of STRAT, Dan, 13, an eighth grader, said he saw last year how students could single out one person for teasing. "There was a girl in my class, and everyone really picked on her because her hygiene wasn't so good," Dan said. "It made me feel sad. I was probably one of her only friends -- I wanted to help the other kids like her."
At the same time, Dan admitted that before he joined STRAT, "I picked on her too. When I got to know her, I stopped. I learned how picking on people can make them feel."
Copyright © 2012 Education World