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Opinion

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.

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Cloonan Middle School students recently conducted a survey of seventh graders about these efforts and found that while 63 percent of students had been bullied at school in the past, only 40 percent were bullied in the current school year. Fifty-nine percent reported that the bullying situation at school had improved this year.

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Here’s what other schools in our organization, College For Every Student, are discovering about mentoring and how it can decrease bullying and – ultimately – help students move toward college. These programs can:

Create positive peer pressure. Peer mentoring raises standards for student behavior among the students themselves and erodes student apathy about negative behaviors.

Teach civility. When students are responsible for their peers, they learn to treat one another with respect. At STARS Prep Academy in Harlem in New York City, a group of middle school boys has created a program that helps them become gentlemen. The student-created curriculum focuses on manners, proper dress, and respectful treatment of girls.

Help students take ownership of solutions. At Burton Elementary School in Erie, Pa., mentors have created bullying books with suggestions on how to respond to bullying.

Create advocates. Bullying happens when adults aren’t watching. Mentors watch their mentees in the hallway to make sure they aren’t being bullied, or bullying other kids. Students become advocates for each other.

Build confidence. Mentors feel good about themselves when they can help other students improve academically. It gives them a sense of responsibility and accomplishment, and develops important leadership skills.

Students themselves are a vital part of the answer to bullying. By leveraging student awareness, leadership, and compassion, peer mentoring programs can replace the culture of bullying with a culture of caring.

Kelly was the answer for Tiara. Because of Kelly’s leadership and compassion, Tiara is no longer a bully. She’s an A student with a bright future. In fact, Tiara plans on becoming a lawyer and she’s now mentoring a sixth grader who “reminds me of myself….”

Rick Dalton is the president and CEO and Virginia Wilkins is the director of mentoring at College For Every Student, a national nonprofit that helps underserved students in 22 states get to college.

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