The Dignity for All Students Act has sent school districts scurrying to buy the latest and greatest anti-bullying programs. At the Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca New York they are using a homegrown program initiated by the school's social worker Celia Clement two years ago. Clement's program called WAM "Welcoming Allies and Mentors" builds on research that shows that peer mentoring can be effective in helping students adjust more quickly to new environments (http://homepages.wmich.edu/~weinreic/GRN670/Allen.pdf).
As reported in NYSUT United the program consists of the social worker and a core team of high school students representing the diversity in the school. These students meet with the incoming middle schoolers on a weekly basis. They mix fun activities like an ice cream social with study skill organization techniques. They also conduct surveys as a way to pinpoint problems and then hold brainstorming sessions to find a way to solve it. In one case older students were budging into the cafeteria line ahead of younger students. Their solution was for the WAM team to confront the perpetrators with a "Hey, you can't do that." They felt having a kid do it would be less confrontational then having a teacher discipline the students. The method worked. In two weeks the budging stopped.
The group's goal is a quote taken from the Holocaust Museum:
"Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander."
Students in the WAM program have great pride in their role. Students in the program see themselves as having moved from being helpful bystanders to being upstanders.
Teachers know that these programs work. But to maintain a program like this and nurture an Upstander Team takes a committed teacher who is given time to work with the students in small groups. Yet, in so many schools, teachers are overworked and have no time for this level of engagement with students. How much better it would be if schools would take some of the money spent on glitzy materials and popular speakers and invest it in their own teachers and students.
To learn more about the WAM program visit Celia Clement's website
Here are some more teacher-created activities that address bullying:
And many more at http://www.teachpeacenow.org/bullying.html
Have a great anti-bullying program at your school? Let's us know.