If your child were being bullied, would you know about it? Most of us would like to believe that if our kids were being targeted at school they’d tell us right away, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Data shows that many bullying victims fail to report their harassment. This could be for any number of reasons, but in many cases the victim stays silent because he’s scared that telling someone will make the bullying worse, is embarrassed about being picked on or thinks the adults in his life can’t do anything to stop it.
It’s a difficult cycle to break, but it’s not impossible. To help, Children’s Hospital Boston has teamed up with teachers, administrators and students in one Boston school to empower kids to take a stand against bullying.
Andie Hernandez, LICSW, EdM, a school-based clinician and consultant in Children’s Hospital Neighborhood Partnerships, recently organized Bully Prevention Week at the MATCH Charter Public School in Jamaica Plain, a middle school that focuses on preparing students for college and beyond.
As a school social worker Hernandez is often called upon for student counseling or consultation when a bullying issue arises at MATCH. Along with Principal Lisa Hwang and Dean of Students Kyle Quadros, Hernandez dealt with plenty of instances of student bullying, and the three adults felt more could be done to eliminate bullying at the source.
“After a while it felt like we were putting out fires. The moment we took care of one problem, another arose,” Hernandez says. “We knew that something needed to be done to get our message out to the entire school instead of reacting to issues as they occurred.”
Because of her relationship and involvement with the school’s community, Hwang asked Hernandez to help organize an anti-bullying curriculum that could reach all of MATCH’s student body and staff. The end result is a series of four, hour-long lessons on bullying prevention and education that Hernandez presented to teachers, who in turn delivered the lesson to students in the classroom.
“Having an in-house social worker who understands our school culture, knows our students, staff and families, is integral,” says Hwang. ”The partnership is essential. If Andie didn’t have the relationships and understanding of our school culture and systems, she wouldn’t have the kind of impact she has to directly support students and our 70-plus staff members.”
Each lesson focuses on a different bullying theme and cumulates in a creative project where the students share what they learned by calling on their inner poet, artist and rapper to offer peaceful solutions to end bullying.
Other topics addressed include:
Bystander education. In many cases chronic bullying is allowed to happen because people who see it don’t know what to do or say. Experts agree that if you give students clear, easy to follow instructions about what to do if they see bullying you can reduce its prevalence. MATCH addresses this by suggesting multiple ways for students to inform adults about bullying and tips on how kids can discourage bullying when they see it themselves. Because bullying is a school-wide problem, providing the entire student body with strategies to counter it will have the most impact.
Spread the word. The media is covering more and more bullying stories these days and there’s no shortage of celebrities willing to speak out against it. But you don’t need to be famous to take a stand against bullying. By encouraging students to use creativity to express themselves, the anti-bullying campaign uses an innovative and effective approach.
Take the pledge. At the end of MATCH’s Bullying Prevention Week, many students signed a pledge vowing to take a stand against bullying. In exchange for the promise they were given a custom made T-shirt, which was co-designed by two students who had been involved in a bullying incident earlier in the year. Principal Hwang, who first had the idea to celebrate the week with a T-shirt, has said the shirt will be considered part of the school’s standard uniform from now on. Hernandez and Hwang hope that seeing the shirt in classrooms and halls throughout the year will remind students to stand up against bullying.
In the future Hernandez says she’d like to expand on Bullying Prevention Week at MATCH, building upon everything she, the students and the staff learned from the experience.
“Going into this we didn’t really know how the kids were going to react, but we heard many thoughtful responses from students during Bullying Prevention Week,” she says. “It was exciting and I’m anxious to see what new things we can come up with to tackle the bullying problem head-on.”
“The message empowered all staff members and students to take a stand and look out for each other,” added Hwang. “We will definitely build upon the project next year and start much earlier.”