The way to really stop school bullying: student mentors
While most anti-bullying initiatives rely on teachers and counselors to serve as watchdogs, one strategy engages students themselves – peer mentoring. Take a look at Cloonan Middle School, where a former bully is now an A student.
A year ago, Tiara, then a seventh grader at Cloonan Middle School in Stamford, Conn., was a bully. “I would go crazy,” she recalls. “I would get mad and say bad things and yell at kids.” Not surprisingly, Tiara was in the principal’s office at least once a week.Skip to next paragraph
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Then, six months ago, Kelly, an eighth grader at Cloonan, began mentoring Tiara. “I joined the environmental club with Kelly, and we worked together in the school garden. We talked about everything,” says Tiara.
Tiara’s behavior changed dramatically. She stopped bullying other students, and she hasn’t been in the principal’s office in months. Her grades, once C’s, are now A’s. Student-to-student mentoring was the key in her case, and this underused strategy could help many more kids like the Tiara of old.
Bullying is pervasive in American schools. According to the National School Safety Center, 90 percent of the students in grades four through eight report being victims of bullying. The growing use of cell phones, Facebook, and other social media has taken bullying beyond the playground so that it’s hard to escape from it. More than half the students in grades 7 through 12 have been bullied online, according to i-SAFE Foundation, and most of these young people don’t tell their parents or teachers.
No surprise: Bullying affects attendance, grades, and graduation. Each day an estimated 160,000 students miss school for fear of being bullied, and 10 percent of students who drop out of school do so because of repeated bullying.
Most troubling is the rising number of suicides by teens who were bullied – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now about 4,400 students every year.
So what can be done to prevent this harmful problem in America’s schools? While most anti-bullying initiatives rely on teachers and counselors to serve as watchdogs, one strategy engages students themselves – peer mentoring.
Schools such as Tiara’s that have initiated such programs – where older students mentor younger peers – are not only seeing sharp decreases in bullying incidents, but also gains in grades and attendance.
Tiara and Kelly’s school has declared itself a “bully-free zone.” By mentoring each other, students raise awareness of bullying and engage one another as part of the solution. Strategies include anti-bullying pledges, anti-bullying poster contests, and “bullying boxes” where students can anonymously report incidents.