Middle School Students Get Tough On Bullying

22 Apr

Earlier this month, Assistant Director, Etana Jacobi, was invited to facilitate two forums on bullying with sixth grade scholars at Up Academy Lawrence in Lawrence, Massachusetts.   Utilizing the David Matthews Center for Public Life‘s issue guide, Bullying: What is it? How do we prevent it?sixty students participated in fruitful deliberations on how this issue affects their lives, and what they can do to change it.  As this is Up Academy Lawrence’s founding year, participants had the unique opportunity to discuss an issue with the support of an open administration eager to enact student-generated policies school-wide.

Both forums produced a similar set of ideas to eradicate the bullying phenomenon, centering on the necessity of a school culture where reporting and positive intervention is considered the norm. As the merit system was considered to be an effective strategy currently in place to reward exceptional behavior becoming of an Up Academy Lawrence scholar, participants felt that merits should be awarded to students for reporting bullying to help eliminate the negative “snitch” mentality.  Students recognized that a trade-off for this option was the potential for over/false reporting, but they felt strongly that the benefits outweighed the possible costs in this situation.

There was also a clear need for students to feel equipped with the skills to become positive interveners when they witness, or are victims of, bullying. Participants supported the idea of having self-confidence training for all incoming students to properly prepare them for handling difficult bullying situations.  In addition to a self-confidence training, many participants expressed an interest in establishing a peer mediation program.  Students could opt out of detention if they agreed to participate in a mediation facilitated by trained peers, without the punitive pressures of faculty or administration involvement.  They felt that the implementation of such a program would foster a group of student allies who would be able to help bullies and victims work through the root cause of the issues they are facing.

Amelia Marden, Founding History Teacher at Up Academy Lawrence and 2012 Teach for America Corp Member, took notes on the deliberation, and is currently working with students on policy recommendations that can be made to their Principle and Dean of Students.

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