On any given day, as many as 160,000 students stay home from school because they’re afraid to face the bullies they may encounter in classrooms, lunchrooms and school hallways.
As author Patricia Polacco noted in her interview with Cyndy, it seems that peer-to-peer programs are most effective and pack the most power against bullies.
Such a program is going on at Jeannette Middle School in Sterling Heights, part of the Utica Community Schools.
Michelle Uebrueck is on the staff at Jeannette Middle School and works closely with the students in what they call “Operation Kindness”.
Cyndy spoke with Uebrueck about the program.
It was started after a visit to Jeannette from Rachel’s Challenge, a group that works to prevent bullying in schools that was started by the family of Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in 1999’s Columbine tragedy.
Uebrueck said she was inspired by the group’s mission to raise awareness and keep the girl’s legacy of kindness and compassion alive.
From the start, the Jeannette program focused on active kindness more than just the negative effects of bullying , Uebrueck said.
“We want to put a positive spin on it,” Uebrueck said of the bullying problem.
She highlighted the fact that “kindness snowballs," and she wants students to know they have the power to change lives.
The program uses students as peer leaders in initiatives like the "Welcome Wagon Lunch Buddy."
Uebrueck said the goal of the program was to make new students feel welcome by showing them around the school and giving them a group of kids to sit with at lunch.
The program also pairs new students who struggle speaking English with other students who speak their first language so that they can communicate immediately.
Uebrueck said it’s heartbreaking to see kids left out in the lunch room and that participants in her program will reach out to those kids.
Cyndy said that she remembers well the terror of middle school lunch rooms. She noted that much of the bullying goes unseen by teachers and it is this bullying that can leave scars.
“We don’t want anyone to feel left out,” Uebrueck said.
She said that Operation Kindness encourages students to act without prompting from adults.
Operation Kindness’ efforts extend throughout the school and the surrounding community. Uebrueck said the group had produced and displayed large banners and posters with inspirational phrases like “Make a huge impact” and “Dream Big.”
She also mentioned the group’s Power of One Walk, an event where kids made posters promoting kindness and took to the streets around Jeanette.
Uebrueck reiterated that the purpose of all the group’s activities was to show kids that one person can have a huge impact on the life of someone else.
She said there are plans to extend the program to a local elementary school and high school.
Cyndy asked if the effort has been a success.
“Absolutely, and the kids can tell you,” Uebrueck said. She remembers the effect Rachel’s Challenge had on students.
“Kids who are really good kids, looked inside themselves and realized that they can be a better person, so imagine what other kids are thinking,” she said.
“It really hit home.”
She said that now a student will drop a binder in the hall and three or four kids will run over to help pick up papers.
“Kids realize that something small like that will just really help someone that day and just might have put a smile on their face,” she said.
Find out more about Rachel's Challenge here.
- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom
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