Middle school students find safety in caring
Walking into Gail Bushey’s seventh-grade science class Thursday morning, 12-year-old Bree Young tripped, spilling her books on the floor.
After a moment of hesitation – and snickers from classmates – Cody Crounse, 12, helped Bree to her feet and scooped up her books.
The staged scenario was part of Carson Middle School’s first project SAFE, where the entire day was dedicated to teaching students how to prevent and respond to bullying.
SAFE, an acronym for Students All Feel Empowered, was created after a survey issued two years ago revealed that nearly half of the students at the school reported they had been bullied.
“That correlates with national research,” said Vice Principal Linda Flaherty. “A lot of people don’t think it’s there but it is.”
And school districts are paying the price. Flaherty read off a list of districts that had been hit with lawsuits and fines for bullying within the schools.
It also affects academics. That’s why, according to Flaherty, it’s worth dedicating an entire day to the subject, momentarily setting aside the more common pursuits of knowledge.
“There’s research studies that show if kids feel safer at school, they’re going to come to school, number one, and, second, they’re going to do better in school,” she said. “It’s not real obvious from first glance, but it happens.”
As part of the curriculum, students learned ways to deal with bullies, including asking for help, using humor, avoiding certain situations and asserting themselves.
Officials will follow up with students throughout the year with an anti-bullying assembly Jan. 21 as well as other classroom projects. The same survey will be re-administered next year to check progress.
A significant portion of the day was spent teaching students to understand empathy.
“You’re not feeling sorry for them, but you’re feeling actually how they feel,” explained Andrew Adrian, 12.
An empathetic student is more likely to intervene when another student is being tormented.
“You should stand up for people who are being bullied,” said Eric Huskey, 12. “If you don’t, they’ll always get picked on.”
At an age when students are trying to exert independence from the adults in their lives and find acceptance among their peers, many may be reluctant to report bullying or help others who are being mistreated.
Flaherty hopes Thursday’s instruction will help change that.
“Statistics show that 85 percent of kids are silent bystanders, they don’t do anything when they see bullying,” she said. “We want to get them to become a caring majority.”
It may make them more likely to report when they are bullied as well.
“I always tell the students to tell me when someone bullies them,” Flaherty said. “Chances are if that person is bullying you, then they’re bullying other kids, too.
“Be somebody else’s hero.”
Carson Middle School bully survey results:
— Have you ever been bullied?
Yes: 42 percent
No: 53 percent
— If you have been bullied, did you tell anyone?
Yes: 41 percent
No: 59 percent
— In what form were you bullied?
Name calling: 34 percent
Hitting: 14 percent
Threatened: 16 percent
Took something: 7 percent
Contact Teri Vance at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 881-1272.