LISBON — When sophomore Emma Hendricks walks the sixth grade hall at Lisbon Community Schools, grades kindergarten through 12th, and hears a young student tell another, “You shouldn’t say that,” she can’t help but smile.
You see, Emma, 16, knows what it’s like to be bullied. Which is why, last fall, as a student council member, she was thrilled to partake in a new student-led anti-bulling program called “The Voice.” She wasn’t alone.
Yes, anti-bullying programs have been sweeping the country in the last few years. Yet you still read and hear stories about why they’ve become necessary, from elementary kids shoving each other on the playground to Penn State University where a former football coach is accused of abusing preteen boys. Even this school in Lisbon, with 660 students, is sorting out accusations of bullying in the wrestling program brought to light last month.
Which is why I sat down with some representatives of “The Voice,” a program I heard about last October. It was born when Ali Givens, 16, (left) a junior, completed an English homework assignment about marginalized groups in society. She realized they needed a voice and emailed her answer to Terese Jurgensen, dean of students at the school.
“You could tell when she was writing about it, she was really thinking,” Terese says.
A gathering of a few student council representatives led to the initiative for “The Voice.”
But she and administrators made one thing perfectly clear to all 28 council members. (To be on the council, you simply volunteer.) “You have to really buy into it,” Terese reiterates. “You have to live it. You have to teach it.”
The plan was to begin in the elementary school. Two or three council members would be assigned to each classroom.
Student Council President Jordan Bahl, 18, (left) remembered being that young not so many years ago. He knew elementary kids can be cruel to each other, sly while doing it, and resistant to adult guidance.
“We thought they didn’t want to hear it from their boring teachers,” Jordan says with a laugh. “They wanted to hear from us. They look up to us.”
In the past there was peer counseling. Lisbon had Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs for some students, too. But this would be for everyone.
In an October retreat the council identified types of bullying — physical, verbal, cyber — as well as social alienation and intimidation. It came up with a three-point pledge: be strong, stand up, use your voice.
Lessons plans included fun physical activities, from loud cheering to a variation on “Twister” called “Human Knot,” where kids cross arms, hold hands and work together to free themselves.
Already, even though high school students meet with elementary grades only two or three times a month, success is evident. Elementary and high school students have become hallway friends.
“When you’re young,” Ali says, “is when you learn habits. Hopefully, when you’re older, that will carry over.”
“It holds us up to a higher standard,” Mitch says. “We’re their role models. It’s helps us be better people.”
“You know you can’t stop everything,” Jordan adds. “Our main goal is to reduce it.”
When Emma told adults she was teased about her weight, nothing happened. But, maybe, if she’d had “The Voice,” if she had learned to stand up more for herself, it would have been different.
“I think we learn every time we go,” Emma says, “what gets through to the kids. What works.”
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