By Emily Kuzcka, City Year AmeriCorps Member at Northwest Elementary School sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal
October is National Bullying Prevention Month! This is a campaign that was created for the purpose of bringing attention to the issue of bullying, primarily within schools. Organizations such as the PACER Center and Stomp Out Bullying give important information about what bullying looks like in its many forms, ways to prevent it, and strategies for addressing and ending it. Throughout the month of October, there are specific days and weeks that focus on bullying prevention where staff and students are challenged to emphasize kindness and unite. Northwest Elementary, where I serve, for example, took part in Unity Day by wearing orange ribbons that symbolized uniting in kindness.
After realizing there are schools that don’t do much with this campaign, I spent a lot of time researching examples from other schools to find things that City Year could implement in the schools we serve. As I delved deeper into the forms of bullying that are most common, I thought a lot about how both my fellow corps members and myself approach those situations. From there, I began to realize that so many of City Year’s core values aid in bullying prevention, not just in this one month, but all year long.
Verbal bullying involves actions such as teasing, taunting, and name-calling. In my short time at Northwest Elementary School, I can sadly say that I have seen plenty of this, though not always intentional. Children are honest and that can come off as very cruel, not because children are actually mean, but because they may have not yet developed the social and empathetic skills of adults. These students also have varying levels of influence outside of school that shapes the way they treat others or drives their need for attention or power. As City Year corps members, our responsibility then is to use the space in which we have influence and turn these potential bullying acts in to learning opportunities. By making space to have this conversation, we can teach students exactly why their words are hurtful, and how being kind and positive is a better alternative. Students look up to City Year and when they see us talking positively to and about others, it encourages them to do the same.
Another form of bullying is social bullying which I linked to the City Year value of inclusivity. Social bullying can be demonstrated by way of leaving others out, publicly embarrassing other students, or spreading rumors. As City Year corps members, we form relationships with students by finding their strengths and building upon those. If students learn to recognize their own strengths, they can also learn to recognize the strengths in their peers and use those diverse abilities to come together and make recess games, conversation, or friendships more fun. Our enthusiastic greetings and inclusive-circle recess games allow any student in that would like to play. These acts set an incredible example for the students watching or getting involved.
The last type of bullying that I looked into was physical bullying which can take form in hitting, kicking, tripping, pushing, or any other way one harms another’s body or possessions. This kind of bullying or behavior tends to go beyond the type of intervention City Year provides, but we can still teach these students kindness and show empathy no matter how difficult that may be. We often have opportunities to coach students on alternative ways to express negative emotions, and help give them other choices than engaging in conflict. Empathy is a City Year value that City Year members embody by seeking to understand their students and reacting in a way that will be helpful and educational as opposed to simply providing consequences that they may already receive from teachers.
As City Year corps members, we can be the best role models we can by exercising inclusivity, empathy, positive can-do attitudes, open hearts, and open minds. National Bullying Prevention Month is an amazing campaign that I hope will grow into every school and be used to its full potential. It brought up an opportunity for my team and me to discuss the types of bullying we witness in the school, and research how it can be stopped or prevented. We will continue to do what we do best: be positive, helpful role models in the school communities and living out the City Year values of inclusivity and empathy.