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As important as academic achievement is, student social and emotional development is also critical to success, both in and out of school. City Year’s work in schools is holistic by design and seeks to support student growth academically, socially and emotionally. The foundation of our Whole School Whole Child services is built on caring adults (including AmeriCorps members) who build positive relationships with the students they serve. Research shows, that learning happens through relationships. We understand that in order to succeed in school, students need to feel safe, secure and connected to their school community.

Read more about how students learn: A Nation at Hope.  

That’s why our AmeriCorps members help students to build the skills and mindsets they need to get along with each other like empathy and teamwork–while helping schools identify opportunities to increase engagement and promote an inclusive environment that enables each child to feel a sense of belonging in school. During National Bullying Prevention Month, we are highlighting these key social-emotional skills that help to support positive school cultures and student well-being.

An effective way to prevent bullying is to create an environment where this kind of abuse, harassment and ostracism is not tolerated. Many teachers and schools do their best to create an environment where bullying is unacceptable, but the fact remains that this damaging behavior is pervasive in some schools.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one out of every five students report being bullied and 33% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year. Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) report significantly high rates of threats, name-calling and other types of bullying—74%.   Those who have experienced bullying as children understand what a frightening and isolating experience it can be, which makes it imperative that adults intervene appropriately when witnessing bullying behavior.

While there is no set formula for the best way to intervene when you suspect or observe bullying behavior, some concrete actions that adults who work in schools can consider include:

Immediately Break Up Bullying Behavior

When you see any type of bullying occurring, you need to act right away and tell the bullying children that their behavior is wrong, and to stop immediately. It is best to do so in front of both parties and bystanders.

When breaking up the behavior:

  • Be firm and specific about the behavior that needs to stop.
  • Separating the students, when possible, is most effective.
  • Be clear that you will follow up with both parties at a later time.
  • For any serious incidents, you’ll need to follow school protocol for reporting misbehavior.

Breaking up bullying behavior will depend on many factors including:

  • Time and location of bullying: Is this before school? On the playground? In afterschool?
  • Your relationships with the students involved: How well do you know that the students? Do you have any prior knowledge about the dynamics between the parties involved?
  • Existing school rules: Are there explicit rules about bullying? Consequences? How do most teachers and adults in the school handle bullying behavior?

Have a Serious Talk with the Bullying Victim to Gain More Information about the Situation  

Be sure to speak with the bullying victim alone and adequately document what the student is sharing with you.

There are a number of factors that can lead to bullying. Read more here.  

Speak With Other Students who Witnessed but did not Participate in the Bullying Behavior

Help bystanders understand what has happened and explain how they can be helpful in preventing future incidents.

City Year supports social-emotional learning to help prevent bullying

If Minor Bullying has Occured, Speak with the Bullying Students about their Behavior and why it is Unacceptable

Be prepared to discuss your observations and other incidents the student has shared with you. 

Learn more about Bullying Prevention Month and what you can do in your school to create a more welcoming, inclusive and kind community, where everyone feels they can belong.

This essay has been updated from an earlier version by Bethiel Girma Holton, who served as City Year’s National Director of Student Engagement.

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