For those who were bullied in school, we all know the signs.
There’s the name-calling, teasing, whispers and the feeling of being made fun of when there’s laughter in the room.
As October marks National Bullying Prevention Month, administrators at O.L. Smith Middle School are creating initiatives to teach students compassion and connect with their peers, rather than put them down.
Bullying prevention was discussed at the Oct. 14 school board meeting by Smith Principal Zeina Jebril and Affective Education Coordinator Danene Charles. Students across the district are taught about bullying within the first week of school as part of a national campaign called #Day1, Charles said.
Created by the Tyler Clementi Foundation, the program involves an authority figure such as a teacher, making a clear statement to students that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated. To confirm that they understand the statement, students then sign a pledge card to become an upstander, a person who attempts to stop bullying by intervening in a situation or reporting an incident.
However, Charles said, she understands that bullying prevention takes more than a one-day pledge.
“We know the impact is not as great as if you are working with your students, your teachers and your parents more on the local level in the school when all of those activities and initiatives are embedded in everyday life in the school,” she said.
That is when Jebril comes in.
Every six weeks, teachers at Smith dedicate a week to teaching small groups of students about kindness and having them participate in activities related to the lesson. In addition, the school organizes activities such as a poetry slam and poster contest geared towards anti-bullying.
Another initiative Jebril has created are mentoring programs, such as the Web Group, where 8th graders mentor 6th graders who are new to middle school. She said 45 students are enrolled in the program this year.
“The 6th graders have somebody that they can always go to as far as their needs and getting acclimated in the building,” Jebril said.
Another program is peer-to-peer mentoring, where student leaders visit classrooms with autistic students and assist them.
“Some of our students that might have behavioral problems really blossom when they’re given these opportunities,” she said.
According to stopbullying.gov, 70.6 percent of young people have seen bullying in their school, with 20 percent of students ages 12-18 experiencing it in 2017.
Trustee Adel Mozip said he was bullied when he moved to the United States as a child.
“But what I remember more is those students who stood up for me and they’re still my friends today,” he said. “I appreciate them. I cherish them and I thank them because without them, I would probably not be here today.”