Getting to the Heart of Safety

 

• Start bully prevention programs. Since most braggarts torment their peers when adults aren't around, it's critical to enlist students to report the incidents. Reassure students that reporting aggressive behavior is not tattling. Treat common bullying ploys such as confiscating lunch money, hitting, verbal harassment, as criminal behaviors because technically they are extortion, assault, and slander

• Ask the PTA to hire speakers to inform parents, teachers, and students on the issues of cliques, bullies, and peer harassment. Parents especially must be apprised of how critical their cooperation is. The recent "not my child" knee-jerk reaction will sabotage any effective peer harassment policy. Parents have to agree to uphold the commitment to changing the climate from cruelty to kindness.

• Is a peer mediation program in place to resolve conflicts? For information on how to launch one, contact the National Middle School Association at 800- 528-NMSA.

Teachers

• Put social behavior on the school's agenda. Teachers we polled for The Roller-Coaster Years, (66%) recognized scapegoating. Successful clique patrol strategies used to change the class climate from exclusive to inclusive included, "I make sure all students feel welcome in my class. We are all artists here. There is no room for cliques," from a California art teacher to "I change seats every three weeks," reported by a Vermont teacher.

• Incorporate friendship skills and social ethics into the curriculum. Experts note that both idealism and activism emerge during early adolescence. For example, English class might include a term paper titled "The Kindest Gesture I Ever Felt." School projects and after-school clubs need to find ways to help young adolescent flex their idealism and good natures.

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