At each building, administrators and teachers deal with the problem in a variety of different ways from giving large scale presentations to holding more intimate classroom conversations and discussions on the subject.
Sometimes students get in on the act, helping to spread an anti-bullying message throughout their school.
At Leota Jr. High, for example, a group of 8th and 9th grade kids stepped up to the plate and designed and implemented a “Be Kind” campaign to help improve school climate and culture.
The leaders who spearheaded the work – Shailey Harris, Maddy Walker, Skylar Hein, Rachel Rosenbaum, Christian Cline, Hannah McKenney, Seth Hunt, Brenna Woods and Abi Burnett – received mentorship assistance from Adam Zitzmann, Leota social studies and leadership teacher, and school counselors Michael Sauer and Heather Warme-Stead.
“The idea for the campaign came from discussions in my leadership class,” says Zitzmann. “Students identified the need to address the problem of ‘not being kind’ — not just bullying, but the general behaviors that exclude others such as rumors and gossip, as well as being mean on Facebook, etc. They created a committee to start a school wide ‘Be Kind’ movement at school and kicked off the campaign with a student-led assembly, which included a series of student made videos and a presentation by a guest speaker from Leota’s faculty.”
Zitzmann explains that during the course of the weeklong campaign, students received announcements about the specific theme for the day, which involved such actions as smiling at someone new, paying a compliment to a fellow student or giving high fives to others.
Additionally, counselors made visits to all social studies classes and led seminars on the importance of treating people with kindness.
At lunchtime, students could sign the Leota pledge to be kind, which involved promising to participate in the solution to stop bullying and to help make changes for the better, as well as to take steps to include others and encourage positive behavior.
Over 500 kids signed the pledge.
“Students were wonderful in their participation, from signing the pledge to reinforcing our theme by participating in holding doors for people, smiling and saying hi to people in the halls, to delivering compliments and high fives,” says Zitzmann. “Students know that being kind is a huge issue that impacts how people feel about themselves, their friends and their school.”
Eighth grader Skylar Hein, one of the leaders of the campaign, feels the campaign was a success.
She notes that almost everyone at the school signed a pledge and many did so independently and not as part of a group, commenting,
“We asked that kids make the decision to sign on their own as a way to make sure that it was something they truly wanted to do, and not because they felt pressured by their group.”
The 14-year-old student feels there is a real need for this type of message at her school. Although she emphasizes that the bullying problem is not pervasive at Leota, it still exists in less obvious forms.
“People think bullying is only physical because maybe that’s all they hear about or see on TV,” she explains. “But, it’s all the other little behaviors that are also bullying, like exclusion or gossiping and saying negative things about other people. We want students to be aware that these things are bullying, too, and that they can be just as damaging.”
Skylar knows about bullying personally as she was a victim of it in elementary school.
She describes the feeling of being excluded by two girls in her class, saying, “I felt like I didn’t belong and it made me very sad.”
Thankfully, the teen talked about what was happening with some other kids who went to her aid by confronting the bullies.
The girls apologized for their behavior and later even became friends with Skylar.
Although Seth Hunt hasn’t been a victim of bullying, he has seen it happen to others.
The Leota ninth grader explains: “I’ve heard comments made about other kids’ appearances, for example, comments that were very negative and insulting. Kids sometimes think they’re joking when they say these things, but I know these kind of comments can really hurt.”
The teen, who also helped to spearhead the “Be Kind” campaign, notes that being kind is something students at his school need to work on, adding, “Kids want to feel cool and be a part of the ‘in’ group. They think smiling isn’t cool. It’s not part of our culture. We need to change this. If smiling and trying to make others feel good about themselves are a part of our culture, then more people will do these things automatically.”
Though the official campaign only lasted for a week, there will be follow-ups throughout the remainder of the year to help perpetuate the message.
Seth explains that the “Be Kind” signs will remain up in the school and all those students that signed a pledge will receive special “Be Kind” wristbands when their pledges are later returned to them.
He says, “We’re going to wrap up the pledges with the wristbands so everyone will have something to remind them of the campaign.”
He adds, “We need to continue with the message because if we stop, everything will stop.”
Zitzmann hopes to build on the themes of kindness in order to lower the number of students who feel disconnected to school because of bullying, as well as to empower others to keep up the momentum of the movement.
Leota principal Obadiah Dunham was very impressed by the campaign, noting that the ideas, planning and work were all carried out by students.
He says, “Messages always seem to have the greatest impact when they are created by students.”
He adds: “The students’ ability to recognize the impact of how they treat each other and wanting to remind everyone how to be positive was the power of the entire week.”
Though it’s too early to know if the campaign will have lasting impact, Dunham believes that anytime there is a positive student-focused message, it has a positive impact on school climate.
“Both students and staff benefitted from the reminder regarding the impact their actions have on others,” he comments. “The students delivered the message in a manner that resonated with everyone. Because Leota has a culture of a kind and caring school, an activity like this is more an outgrowth of that culture rather than an attempt to affect the culture.”